- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Twenty years ago, Virginia’s first lottery jackpot winner confidently boasted that the money wouldn’t change him.

Then he bought a yacht.

“Just a 34-footer,” Anthony Palermo said of the vessel he dubbed Picked Six. “It’s not like I went for one of those 100-foot jobs.”

He took a bit of a bath in the stock market, too.

“Who doesn’t these days?” Mr. Palermo said.

And about that house?

“OK, I did some stupid things,” Mr. Palermo said shortly after collecting the final installment of his $7.1 million prize in the Virginia Lottery. “But then I smartened up. And you know what? The more I became like the common man, the more I loved it.”

In 1990, Mr. Palermo, who now lives in Florida, was a petty officer first class stationed at Norfolk Naval Station who wanted nothing more than to make a career out of the military. He also enjoyed playing the lottery, particularly one six-number combination of birthdays and wedding anniversaries: 1,2,10,18,23,29.

“There’s this number you can call to find out how you did,” Mr. Palermo said. “So I’m listening with the ticket in front of me and it’s like, ‘Check, check, check.’ … I started jumping up and down. I woke my wife up and said, ‘You’ve got to listen to this.’ Then she started jumping up and down. We were really excited.

“Then I got paranoid.”

Mr. Palermo had heard stories about lottery winners mismanaging themselves from millionaires to bankruptcy within a matter of years. Fortunately for Mr. Palermo, the lottery managed his millions for him by doling it out in equal chunks, after taxes, once every year until 2009.

“That’s the only thing that saved me,” said Mr. Palermo, whose first check was for $269,568.98. “I always knew if I did something stupid, I’d get another chance.”

But as word spread, Mr. Palermo said, he went from a data processor to a show pony.

“I became like the queen of England,” he said. “People were coming in off the street just to ogle me. I was like a celebrity.”

Nine months after his big score, Mr. Palermo was out of the Navy.

Upon moving to Florida, the Palermos began splurging, including on a “way-too-big” house.

“I’ll admit it was fun for a while,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, that kind of thing gets old real quick.”

So Mr. Palermo took a job unloading boxes in the receiving department at a local Home Depot. “Nobody knew who I was,” he said. “I loved it.”

Mr. Palermo also became a more discriminating spender, perhaps aided by the fact that a divorce and child-support payments shaved his most recent take-home winnings to about $120,000. He prides himself on having paid the college bills for all four of his children, and on owning the three acres on which his current house sits.

“All my bills are basically paid off,” he said.

Most of all, though, Mr. Palermo said, he’s proud of the outcome of a friendly wager with his mother placed shortly after he hit it big. He said he would be the same person regardless of the money; his mother countered with nearly 270,000 reasons why he wouldn’t.

Twenty years later, Mr. Palermo believes he has won big again.

“She told me I’d never be able to do it,” he said. “But looking back, there’s nothing I really, really regret - I’m the same guy. … I’m just going to keep sticking with what works.”

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