Mega Millions mania leads to disappointment in California

Lotto fever reached a frenzied peak Friday, only to dash the dreams of California players as no ticket with all six Mega Millions numbers was sold in the state, a California Lottery spokesman said.

The numbers were 2, 4, 23, 38 and 46 with Mega number 23.

Early Saturday, the Baltimore Sun reported that one winning ticket had been sold in Baltimore County, Md. It was unknown if winning tickets were sold elsewhere. But 29 tickets sold here had five of the numbers and were expected to pay off in the high hundreds of thousands, said Russ Lopez, a spokesman for the California lottery, which monitors the lottery activity in the state.

Nine of the 29 tickets were sold in Los Angeles County — five in Los Angeles, and one each in Montebello, Long Beach, Hawthorne, and El Monte. A five-number ticket was also sold in Anaheim.

By the time officials in Atlanta called the six magic numbers at 8 p.m. PDT, the jackpot had risen to at least $640 million. More than $200 million in tickets was sold in California on Friday, and Mega Millions officials reported at least $1.5 billion sold nationwide.

For the past few weeks, the $1-a-ticket gambling game with its 1-in-176-million odds had captured the fancy of dreamers nationwide.

Lottery officials had estimated that there was a 95% chance someone would win the jackpot Friday. The Mega Millions sales and payoffs are monitored by each state’s lottery officials and some states are slow to announce their winners, Lopez said.

One man who has already lived through the drama of hitting the jackpot has some advice for anyone who suddenly comes into fabulous wealth.

Al Castellano, now 77, used to play just a dollar or two a month on the lottery. He could not afford more. But one Saturday in 2001, the recently retired grocery store clerk decided to splurge.

That day, he bought 14 tickets, hoping for a $141-million California Super Lotto Plus prize.

“The week before I had won $10, so I went to my lotto jockey and I said give me $10 and he couldn’t believe it,” said Castellano, who lives in Saratoga, near San Jose. “My wife thought I was crazy. Then I went back down and spent another $4.”

The next morning, he browsed through his Sunday paper for half an hour before plucking his tickets from the refrigerator door and returning to the front-page headline: “Do you have these numbers?”

“About the second paragraph, the article starts with where the ticket had been bought, and it was where I buy my ticket,” Castellano recounted more than a decade later. “I said, ‘Oh my God.’ Then I saw the numbers.”

It was just after 6 a.m., and Castellano decided it would be a good idea to take a walk. After the walk, if the numbers still matched, then, and only then, would he wake his wife. Sure enough, they were the same when he returned.

“Come into the living room,” he told his wife, Carmen. “I want to talk to you.”

“Check these numbers,” he told her. “I think we won the Lotto.”

Almost immediately, Carmen Castellano began the planning.

She made a list of all the organizations that needed part of their jackpot, the largest individual prize in the history of the California Super Lotto Plus game.

She now heads the Castellano Family Foundation, which provides funding for the arts and Latino organizations.

But after she made her list of charities, she also laid out how her family’s next few days would go.

“We plotted every move,” said Carmen Castellano, now 72.

They invited all three children to their San Jose home and broke the news. Then they hired a financial advisor, an attorney and a public relations specialist. They decided not to turn the ticket in until the next Thursday, and told lottery officials they would hold their own news conference the next day.

“At first, it was terrible, really,” Al Castellano said. “But then we changed our addresses and our phone numbers.”

Only after the circus died down did the couple buy cars, a new house and other material items. They prioritized paying off their children’s graduate school debt, and planted the $5 million seed money for their foundation. Because they opted for the significantly smaller one-time payout, the $141 million ended up netting the couple just more than $50 million after taxes.

Al Castellano doesn’t think he’s changed much, but he voices a sentiment about the lottery shared by most winners like him.

“It’s just, maybe, perhaps, some miracle,” he said. “That’s what I consider this: A miracle that I won.”