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LI co-workers split record $437M Mega Millions jackpot

Owner Jay Huang at the Brookville Auto gas

Owner Jay Huang at the Brookville Auto gas station in Glen Head, where the winning ticket was bought Jan. 1. Credit: Howard Schnapp

It may be the fantasy of every longtime, lottery-playing workplace group on Long Island — hit the jackpot, divvy up the winnings, and book a trip to some place with hot sun, warm sand and cool drinks.

But a group of 23 co-workers at a not-to-be-named small Long Island retail business may already be in touch with accountants and travel concierges after one of their Mega Millions tickets hit for $437 million — the largest face-value jackpot in New York Lottery history.

The winning ticket was bought at the Brookville Auto Service Center in Glen Head.

And with a nod to the ever-so-public times of 2019, the group claimed the prize Jan. 11 after the New Year's Day drawing through a limited liability company they set up with the pitch-perfect moniker, New Life 2019 LLC.

To the chagrin of those who want to gobble up every detail of the new millionaires, they have not been named. “Due to the formation of the LLC, the members are not required to be identified,” said Brad Maione,  director of communications for the New York State Gaming Commission.

The winning workers opted for a single lump sum of $262,213,914 and are actually dividing up $176,155,308, after required state and federal withholdings, according to a news release Tuesday from the New York State Gaming Commission. With an even split, that means each walks away with about $7.7 million.

Eric Jaffe, an attorney in Huntington, said he was contacted the same day the group got back to work after New Year's and learned the Mega news. Already working with their employer and knowing several of the employees, Jaffe said, “I knew enough of the people that they felt confident bringing me in to give guidance.”

Indeed, he accompanied some of them to the lottery office on the day they handed over the winning ticket, he said.

The LLC was an easier way to deal with such a large number of winners, especially as they wished to remain anonymous, according to Jaffe. The LLC brought no associated “tax benefits or tax consequences,” he said. 

As a group, “they are the salt of the earth, great people,” ranging from those who work with their hands to those who work on computers, Jaffe said. The kind of folks, he said, that if you were not to pick yourself to win the lottery, you would be “more than comfortable picking them.”

The group has long played the lottery weekly, with each putting a dollar into an envelope, the release said. 

Did they boost their chances by pooling their resources over the years?

Buying multiple tickets for any given drawing, does increase the odds of winning, said Bruce Torff, Hofstra University professor of educational psychology and self-described “stat geek.”  Also, “going for more pots” by playing regularly increases the odds.

However — and here comes the reality check — “the odds are still so outsized impossible” for each pot, he said, “it still doesn’t put you in a very good position.” Even with a large group playing over time, it still “computes to pretty much a waste of money the odds are so witheringly low,” Torff said.

Most of the 23 winners plan to “continue working because they view themselves as a family and not just co-workers,” the release said. Also the money will go toward all the regular obligations like bills and debts, but also, new houses, college funds for their kids, with some set aside for travel.

As for THE moment when 23 Long Island lives changed forever?

As the colleagues came to work and learned they had won, the release said, “there was a lot of crying, hugging and jumping around that day. Many of the members double- and triple-checked the ticket in disbelief.”

The clerk who rang up that winning ticket, Niz Aydogan, who works the register at Brookville Auto Service's minimart, said he was glad the group came forward to claim the jackpot.

“I’m lucky to sell the ticket,” said Aydogan, 53, of Carle Place. “I made some people very happy.”

Aydogan said he didn’t know who the winners were, but that he had seen “a lot of new faces” come to the shop recently to buy lotto tickets.

The store, owned by Jay Huang, which has a large banner near its entrance telling customers that the jackpot ticket was sold there, will receive $10,000 from the New York Lottery, according to a news release.

“It’s good for the boss and the business,” Aydogan said.

Other New Yorkers who have won big

  • Robert Bailey, 67, a retired federal government employee from Harlem, won the $343.8 million Powerball jackpot in 2018. [The drawing was for nearly $700 million, but he split it with a woman in Iowa who picked the same winning numbers.]
  • Harold Diamond, of upstate Wurtsboro, a retired elementary school principal, won the $326 million Mega Millions in 2014.
  • Seven state workers in the Albany area won the $319 million Mega Millions lottery in 2011.
  • Wayne Harris, of upstate Homer, won the $105 Mega Millions jackpot in 2017

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