The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A woman had a winning lottery ticket. She threw it away.

Mary Elliott won $110,000. (Virginia Lottery)
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Mary Elliott panicked when she realized that she’d thrown away her winning lottery ticket.

Had her husband taken out the trash? Would they be able to find it? Had she lost out on $110,000?

Elliott, 67, had bought the $2 ticket for the Virginia Lottery’s Cash 5 with EZ Match game the day before at a Food Lion grocery store in Dillwyn, Va., state lottery officials said in a statement released last week. She used relatives’ birthdays, including that of her son who died a few years ago, to choose her numbers for the Feb. 24 drawing. Her chances of winning the $110,000 grand prize weren’t great. According to the Virginia Lottery, the odds of matching all five numbers were just shy of 1 in 750,000.

But Elliott told The Washington Post she felt a pull to play the Cash 5 game, despite not having done so in more than a decade. “I just don’t think people are just lucky,” she said. “I think that if God’s got something for you, he’s going to see that you get it.”

An Army veteran used numbers from his fortune cookie to play the lottery. He won $4 million.

The winning numbers were drawn that night, a Thursday, but Elliott didn’t realize it. Instead, she spent most of the next day waiting for what she thought was her drawing. She checked the lottery’s website again and again throughout the evening — but still no new numbers popped up.

Then, it dawned on her — she had been waiting for a drawing that had happened 24 hours earlier. When she looked at Thursday’s winning numbers, they matched hers.

The physical sensation that struck Elliott was like nothing she’d ever experienced. A diabetic, she compared it to her blood sugar crashing. She got nervous, hyper, joyful — all at once.

“I was just shaking,” she told The Post.

But now she had to find the ticket.

Earlier that night, she’d scooped it up with several losing tickets for a different lottery game and thrown them out. She and her husband raced to the utility room in a panic. She went to the garbage can, dug around and resurrected the ticket — now stained with coffee.

Elliott used her phone to scan the ticket’s bar code — despite having the correct numbers, it said she was not a winner.

Her husband suggested she let the ticket dry out. About two hours later, she tried again. This time, her phone confirmed her hunch: The ticket was, in fact, a winner. Later, a store clerk told her she’d hit a big payout, and lottery officials eventually informed her of the $110,000 win.

Elliott isn’t the only lottery player who nearly missed out on a big payday because of a lost or discarded ticket. Last year in March, a Tennessee man won $1.2 million but lost the winning ticket, requiring him to retrace his steps to find it lying on the ground. That month, convenience store owners in Massachusetts reunited a million-dollar lottery ticket with the woman who had tossed it because she thought it was a loser. And early this year, a 55-year-old woman didn’t know she’d won the $3 million Mega Millions prize until she checked her spam folder to find an email from the Michigan Lottery.

Elliott, a retired health-care worker, said that her win was not luck — it’s all part of something much bigger than her.

So is her next step. Elliott told The Post that, although she’s already received her lottery prize, she hasn’t spent it. She’s holding out for divine inspiration.

“I’m waiting on God’s plan,” she said.

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