Luck of the draw?
Third lottery win comes with high cost
Mike “Lucky” Luciano scored $500,000 Tuesday from a scratch-off lottery ticket purchased in Altoona, his third lottery jackpot score in just over 20 years.
Luciano was elated.
His wife, Shelly, was astounded.
His friends blew up his phone with congratulations.
And, yet — something about this win rang hollow, Luciano said.
“I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed, winning big three times in my lifetime,” Luciano said. “Most people are just looking for one win — and I know this is incredible.”
A dour expression creased Luciano’s clean-shaven face as he wiped down the bar at Mike’s Court, the tavern he purchased on Fifth Street in the ’90s.
“But, I’m convinced no one wins this many times without playing more than they should,” Luciano said flatly. “I’m addicted to it.”
When Luciano won $3 million from a scratch-off ticket in 2016, he was inundated by media requests, but he declined.
It was all too much, but despite his silence, Luciano watched as lottery ticket sales in Altoona sky-rocketed. A statistic, he said he hopes won’t repeat itself this time.
“People shouldn’t do what I do,” he confided. “I don’t want them to think — I mean, I’m not ungrateful, this is unbelievable and I couldn’t be more thankful it’s happening to me — but I don’t want people to think it will happen to them.”
Luciano declined to reveal how many lottery tickets he plays each day, but he said there were many. When impulsive scratch-off tickets are added to the mix, the purchases can be overwhelming.
“I went through some days when I knew I shouldn’t do this,” Luciano said.
An Altoona native who once dreamed of leaving Blair County, 54-year-old Luciano graduated from Bishop Guilfoyle High School before earning a business degree at Saint Francis University.
After deciding to stay in Altoona to be closer to his parents, Luciano purchased his bar in 1992.
A few years later, he struck gold with the Cash 5 in 1999, winning $100,000 on numbers he can still recite today — “1, 10, 19, 22, 37,” Luciano said. “I don’t know why I picked those numbers, but I did, and when I saw them on the computer, I knew I had them all.”
With the money, Luciano and his wife paid off their credit cards, student loans and took his parents to the beach. They helped out family with small things and invested a bit, too.
Luciano kept playing the lottery, winning small sums, but nothing big until Thanksgiving 2016.
“I think there’s all these little things that have to happen before you can win,” he said.
For years, he and a friend played basketball every Thanksgiving morning, but the friend had a hip replacement shortly before the holiday, preventing the tradition.
Instead of hitting the courts, Luciano headed for the bar to ensure the business was in order when it opened later that night. His wife called, and he agreed to go home early and cut the roast beef.
On his way home, he stopped to play a couple $30 scratch tickets, which his wife had previously told him to avoid. The first was a $50 winner, but the second was a dud. So, he bought another.
With chores on his mind, he quickly scratched the ticket and overlooked the winning numbers, thinking it another dud.
When he ran it through the ticket checker, however, big words filled the screen informing him the ticket was worth $3 million.
“I drove straight home, running three stop signs on the way,” he said. “I figured I’d just pay the fines if I got pulled over.”
When a person wins the lottery, they only keep a fraction of the jackpot.
When Luciano won the Cash 5 in 1999, the take home was about $73,000. But when he won the $3 Million Extravaganza, his initial payment was $2.1 million, and he owed the IRS another $400,000 after that, leaving him with just about half the advertised amount.
“It’s still a whole pile of money, but it’s not as much as you think at first,” Luciano explained.
That night, he bought everyone at the bar a lottery ticket and sold all his menu items for just $2 each.
Luciano might not understand his luck, but his wife has a theory.
“He wins because he’s such a giving person,” she said. “He’s always helping people, and I think this is how it comes back.”
With his earnings, Luciano paid off all his parents’ bills, bought a new car, invested, went on a few vacations and put some money into improving his business.
Letters filtered in with requests and advice about spending his money, but for the most part, Luciano said everyone was cool about it.
The sum, unfortunately, wasn’t enough money for him to officially retire, and work started to become stressful.
“You’d think with a payout like that, you could call it quits,” Luciano said. “But I realized I still had to work full time.”
The last time, maybe
Pensive, Luciano recalled the feeling of defeat when he first started playing the Tree-mendous scratch off tickets.
“They were $10 tickets, and the most I’d won on them was $100,” he said. “It was really bad. I’m a competitor, and sometimes, I have trouble with someone beating me. And the ticket was beating me.”
While casual gamblers stop playing when they reach a set loss limit, people with a compulsive gambling problem can be compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time, the Mayo Clinic reported. Luciano kept playing the frustrating game, and Monday, it paid off, but he wouldn’t realize that until Tuesday.
Like with the $3 million-winning ticket, he thought the scratch card was a loser. He tucked it into the console of his car, and went about his day.
Sixteen hours later, he was purchasing another lottery ticket — an often daily occurrence as he runs errands — and decided to verify the losing card with the ticket checker.
It was worth $500,000.
“To grab two needles in the haystack, and in this town?” Luciano said. “It’s unbelievable. I am so thankful.”
Luciano said he will be more careful about how he spends these winnings, remembering how quickly his previous payout disappeared.
While appreciative of another big win, Luciano said he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment if he thought a doctor could cut the lottery addiction out of his brain.
“I get mad at myself when I don’t play my numbers, because it’s just there — what if?” he said. “There’s a pandemic of people addicted to gambling in this world, and I’m one of them.”
Luciano once called a hotline for help, but the person he talked to wasn’t nice, so he hung up. He said he’s thought about seeking counseling, but never acted on it.
On the upside, the money will help offset the bar’s losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Restaurants and bars have come in last place throughout all this,” Luciano said.
But, on the flipside, it might be time to call it for good.
“It wasn’t overly exciting, this one,” Luciano said. “I’m appreciative. I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking this for granted, but it just wasn’t the same.”
When one of his patrons learned Luciano hit the jackpot, he advised Luciano to quit while he was ahead.
“This time, maybe — maybe,” Luciano said. “I just might listen to him.”
For more information about gambling addiction, call the Pennsylvania gambling addiction 24-hour hotline at 800-426-2537.
Mirror Staff Writer Ike Fredregill is at 814-946-7458.