HALLOWELL, Maine — The folks come in red-faced. Some look worn, as if they tried and failed to sleep.
One guy filled out his official claim form with the enthusiasm of a diabetic at a candy counter, stoic until presented a few minutes later with a check for $35,000. A dim smile spread across the man’s face as Tim Poulin, the director of operations for the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery, shook his hand.
“Congratulations,” Poulin said, unsurprised at the lack of emotion on the winner’s face.
In his two years as the state lottery’s point man — and a witness to the births of several millionaires — Poulin has never seen game-show-style outbursts. Though he and the lottery give away more money than Alex Trebek, more than $100 million in the last year, there are no champagne bottles, limos or grateful kisses.
“It’s muted,” said Poulin, the 49-year-old Sidney man who signs every big check. “They’re not jumping up and down.”
Handing out money is the best part of a job that includes watching over an organization that contributes $50 million each year to the state’s general fund from the sale of both instant lottery tickets and jackpot tickets such as Megabucks and Powerball.
Before coming to the lottery in early 2010, Poulin worked for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. It was a calm desk job.
Today, his job has more surprises. And usually, the people are happier, he said.
Poulin tries to talk with everyone who wins a prize of $5,000 or more.
But sometimes the winning happens too fast for him to keep up.
If someone wins less than $600, they can get their prizes from a store that sells lottery tickets. The bigger prizes need to be processed by Poulin’s office, which is down the street from the Capitol. People may mail their tickets, and the lottery will send them a check. Most larger winners choose to show up in person.
The man with the $35,000 check had spent about 15 minutes at the office, walking in the front door to face a sight that resembles a bank teller’s drive-up window with a drawer that slides open. He gave the clerk his $3 “Super-Duper Crossword.”
A moment later, a machine rang with the words, “You are a winner!”
The prize was $50,000.
The man surrendered his driver’s license, and the clerk went to work while the man filled out a claim form. After state and federal taxes were taken out, the prize was about $35,000. The clerk checked to see whether the man had unpaid child support; that, too, would have been taken out. He didn’t.
A few minutes later, when the claim was finished and the tax issues were explained, Poulin signed a check for more than $35,000.
It’s that fast.
“These are instant tickets and people want their money right away,” Poulin said. “We have about $750,000 in our checking account. We’re signing checks all the time for multiple levels of prizes “
A few minutes earlier, he had given a $21,000 winner an after-tax check for $14,000. The man planned to take the check directly to the lottery’s bank on Augusta’s Western Avenue and retrieve a stack of $100 bills.
“We tell people in ads that ‘We’ve got the winners,’” Poulin said. “It’s true.”
Most players seem to fall within a couple of categories. Some are people who play all the time with favorite games and a routine. The other bunch are folks who buy a ticket whenever the jackpots get big.
Among those Poulin has met was an Oxford County couple who won more than $2.7 million.
Like the smaller winners, the people who win life-changing, seven-figure megasums seem matter-of-fact, Poulin said.
They’re happy, but they are concerned about their privacy and must spend time deciding the most responsible way to manage the sudden windfall.
Poulin only has a few hints for the big winners.
• No. 1: Sign your ticket for security.
“If somebody calls and says ‘I have a $250,000 winner,’ the first thing we say is, ‘Sign the back of your ticket,’” Poulin said. “All tickets are bearer instruments. As part of the verification process, anyone who signs the ticket must be present when it is redeemed.
One million-dollar winner told him he’d spent sleepless nights between his Saturday win and Monday morning’s opening of the lottery office. “His wife kept the ticket in her bra for security,” Poulin said.
• No. 2: Get financial advice.
Every big winner has the choice between a lump sum and an annuity.
There are also trusts that can be used to keep the winner’s identity private.
• No. 3: Change your phone number.
“People will be calling you,” Poulin said. “There’s no question about it. People will try to scam you.”
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