Robert Bailey knows the numbers by heart, having recited them to bodega clerks in New York every week, every year, for a quarter of a century. Then came Oct. 27.
Call it luck or persistence. But the combination of 8-12-13-19-27-4 hit. A retired postal worker who lives in Manhattan, Mr. Bailey, 67, won the largest jackpot in New York Lottery history, $343.8 million. On Wednesday, he accepted his lump sum check for $125,396,690 — his cut after taxes — in a public ceremony at the Resorts World Casino in Queens.
Mr. Bailey, a self-described “humble” man who was wearing dark sunglasses and dad jeans, was splitting the Powerball jackpot with Lerynne West, 51, a mother of three from Redfield, Iowa, who had claimed her prize more than a week ago. She told The Des Moines Register that a clerk had generated the numbers randomly for her.
While Ms. West had announced plans to start a foundation, and to donate $500,000 to an organization supporting wounded veterans, Mr. Bailey said he would “give back to Manhattan.” He did not specify how he would do so.
But he also had a more immediate plan: “Get a house for my mother, God bless her, with a little land,” he said. “Travel. And make good investments.”
And, perhaps, go somewhere exotic. “I haven’t been to Las Vegas in a while,” he said.
But who needs Vegas when he can have the West Harlem Deli on Fifth Avenue?
The deli, which reaped $10,000 for providing the winning ticket, is in Mr. Bailey’s neighborhood, but he said he rarely played his numbers there.
The Saturday of that drawing was rainy, so Mr. Bailey said he rushed out of a friend’s car to play his numbers; Mr. Bailey said he planned to “take care” of that certain friend who gave him a ride.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot were 1 in 292,201,338 million, according to the Lottery. But what are the odds when a person plays the same number thousands of times over 25 years?
Aaron Tenenbein, a statistics professor at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, estimated Mr. Bailey’s odds would have been 1 out of 115,385. “It doesn’t matter if he’s playing the same number, it’s still the same chance,” Mr. Tenenbein said. In other words: “It’s pure luck.”
Mr. Bailey said his winning numbers came from a set of digits given to him by a family member about 25 years ago, but wouldn’t elaborate. He said he played every New York State lottery game using those numbers — 8, 12, 13, 19, 27 and 40 — ever since. For the Powerball drawing, he adjusted the 40 to an allowable single digit.
For Mr. Bailey, lightning struck twice: He once won $30,000 on a Take Five ticket.
Mr. Bailey didn’t even watch the live Powerball drawing, he said, but checked the results later after watching college football. He saw the first five numbers match. “When I saw the 4, I just was in shock,” he said. He stayed up all night and barely slept that weekend.
It took him so long to come forward, he said, because “I had to see a lawyer and a financial adviser.”
Cheerful, but not exactly forthcoming, Mr. Bailey said he would have avoided the ceremony if he could, except that New York law doesn’t allow lottery winners to hide their identities. A spokesperson with the U.S. Postal Service said that Mr. Bailey had worked there since 1968, most recently as a machine operator, and retired in 2009. Mr. Bailey said he was single today, “but happy,” and has children, but wouldn’t say how many.
He arrived alone to claim his prize, even if he half-jokingly admitted he might need a bodyguard. Although his life has changed forever, he can’t quit one routine.
Mr. Bailey arrived in Queens clutching a fresh batch of tickets and numbers slips. “I had to play this morning before I came here,” he said.
“I’m going to ride this out, I can’t stop now.”
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
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