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Lottery winner's son finds religion

Gloria Bentivegna, of West Babylon, stands with her

Gloria Bentivegna, of West Babylon, stands with her son Sal Bentivengna, of Smithtown, with her winning check from the New York State Lottery in front of a statue of Jesus at Saint Cyril and Methodius RC Church in Deer Park on May 26, 2011. Bentivegna believes Jesus played a role in her win. Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

For Gloria Bentivegna, winning the $1-million lottery jackpot was . . . divine.

The West Babylon woman is crediting the state Lottery win with helping to bring her son Sal, 28, -- who places himself someplace on the spectrum between atheism and agnosticism -- back to his mother's faith.

The day before she won the scratch-off game in late April, Sal had challenged his mother -- and their Roman Catholic faith -- to win in the name of religious proof.

"I told her, 'Why don't you ask Jesus for a million dollars?' and she said, 'It doesn't work like that,' " he said Thursday.

" 'Jesus, give my mom a million dollars,' " the Smithtown man recalled saying at the time. "If he wanted me to have a little bit of faith, he would do it."

Then his Gloria Bentivegna, 61, won.

"It was a true miracle," the retired store manager said. "I prayed for it so hard. . . . Jesus was there, guiding everything."

After taxes, she will be paid $33,000 a year for 20 years, which is about how long she said her son hasn't gone to church.

But all that's changing: After Bentivegna won, Sal, a car audio installation technician, and his mom went to a Wednesday Mass at Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Deer Park, his first service in decades.

Bentivegna said she's still absorbing the fact that she's a winner and hasn't decided how she'll spend the money.

And her son is beginning to believe again.

"There's so many coincidences. Sure, I could brush it off as another freak incident. But to do so would be just stupid -- would be ignorant on my part," he said.

Five of the other winners announced Thursday by state lottery officials were Long Islanders, including the $21.5-million jackpot winners, Fred, 78, and Beverly, 71, Lifschutz of Woodmere.

Others were from Valley Stream, Centereach and Medford.

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