North Carolina man Gabriel Fierro wins $4 million playing numbers from a fortune cookie – The Washington Post

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Having sunk some $70,000 on lotto tickets over two decades, Gabriel Fierro decided to mix things up. In addition to playing automatically generated numbers like always, the 60-year-old Army veteran last month used the digits from the slip of paper inside his fortune cookie.
“Anything to win,” he told The Washington Post.
Fierro, who lives in Cornelius, N.C., threw away the fortune and didn’t think much of it until, about a week and a half later, he checked the results of the previous night’s drawing. One email from the North Carolina Education Lottery informed him he’d won four bucks. A second, referencing another lotto ticket, directed him to check his online account.
That was good news. From experience, Fierro knew that meant he’d scored a payout topping $1,200. He logged in, expecting he’d won around $2,000.
His fortune cookie had given him a more generous gift than that — $4 million.
“I just stared at it dumbfounded,” Fierro told lottery officials. He showed his wife, who dismissed it as a scam. No, Fierro told her, he was getting the information directly from the lottery’s website. The win was real.
“She started screaming and we’re yelling and we’re having fun because you just don’t believe you won $4 million,” he told The Post.
Along with his usual order of shrimp fried rice, Fierro got a fortune cookie at Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Charlotte on Jan. 8 during his weekly Saturday afternoon lunch with his wife. He eventually used the numbers on the fortune to buy a $3 ticket for the Mega Millions drawing on Jan. 18. He spent an extra $1 for a Megaplier, which would quadruple his $1 million prize. It’s the largest windfall in the history of North Carolina’s online lottery system, which Fierro started using during the pandemic to buy tickets from his computer at home. On Jan. 20, he went to lottery headquarters in Raleigh to collect his money.
Fierro, a retired Army master sergeant who spent 32 years in the military before getting hurt while serving in Iraq, bagged a little more than $2.8 million after taxes.
The win was the high point of Fierro’s long, steady lottery campaign. He’s played off and on for two decades but, about four years ago, upped his involvement, settling into a regimen in which he spent an average of $500 a month on tickets for three games: Powerball, Mega Millions and Lucky for Life. Occasionally, he “goes crazy” and supplements those with $100 in scratch-offs.
“I’m a player,” he told The Post. “… I’m of that one belief that you have exactly zero percent chance of winning if you don’t play.”
Fierro and his wife already know how they’re going to spend the money. In fact, they had plans before winning: to invest in the stock market, bonds, retirement accounts and a rental property. They also wanted to buy waterfront property on nearby Lake Norman, where they plan to build a new home.
But a rental property was going to cost between $300,000 and $400,000. Buying property on the lake would require an additional $250,000 or so — before they build a thing on it, Fierro said. They’d been saving but were “still nowhere close” to amassing the amount of money they needed, he said.
Then came the $4 million win.
Fierro estimated the unexpected influx of cash accelerated their plan by about five years, and they’ve already started executing it. Fierro said he and his wife plan to close on a piece of waterfront property within a few weeks.
He did allow himself an indulgence, one that will come in handy on Lake Norman: a 24-foot pontoon boat.
Barely two weeks after winning, Fierro said he wasn’t satisfied, that he’s going to keep playing the lottery. In explaining why, Fierro noted that he could have won a lot more in the Jan. 18 drawing. “Now I didn’t win the big one … I had five numbers, but I didn’t have the Powerball. Had I [had] that Powerball number, I would have won $237 million.”
So he’s going to keep chasing it.
“I’m still playing,” he said, “because I want the big one.”


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