An Anchorage man won a $3.5 million jackpot this week, selecting the winning card in a game operated by Lotto Alaska.
George Tagarook had the opportunity to pick the card in the Chase the Ace game — and land the mammoth prize — after he won this week’s lottery draw.
The $3,561,733 jackpot is by far the largest awarded by Lotto Alaska. The next closest was on April 17, 2022, when the winner earned $908,000.
During an interview with local radio host Bob Lester on Lotto Alaska’s Facebook page, Tagarook said he bought about $100 in tickets. He said he’d only been playing the lotto for a few months.
Tagarook, who is retired, said he’s planning to pay off bills as his first order of business with his winnings.
According to Lotto Alaska staff member Stosh Solski, by the time Tagarook called to claim the weekly lottery prize, he’d almost missed the Monday evening deadline to be eligible to play the game that led to his multimillion-dollar windfall.
On Sunday, Tagarook wrote down the winning numbers to check his tickets but had conflated the final four digits, writing them down incorrectly.
“The next day when I woke up, I had to check the numbers again,” he told Lester. “There it was, 6-6-5-5.”
Lotto Alaska participants can buy tickets for a chance to win the weekly prize fund. The draw for the winning ticket takes place Sundays, and the person holding the corresponding ticket can claim their winnings, which amount to about one-fifth of that week’s ticket sales.
If the winner reaches out by 6 p.m. Monday, they can also play Chase the Ace, in which they’ll get a chance to open a window on the game board for an additional jackpot. There are 54 windows, each corresponding to a playing card — the 52 cards in a standard deck plus two jokers. Selecting the ace of spades means winning the jackpot.
Tagarook picked window 49, partly because Alaska is the 49th state and also because his eldest son is a San Francisco 49ers fan. Solski said there were 18 cards left on the board when Tagarook picked the winning card.
Solski said he didn’t think the massive amount of the win sank in with Tagarook initially. The weekly prize itself was over $126,000.
Solski called Tagarook and jokingly said they weren’t able to send him the video of the reveal and asked if he could fly to Lotto Alaska headquarters in Fairbanks to pick up the check.
“His response was, ‘I’ve got some appointments this week, so I don’t think this week will work,’ ” Solski said.
“And I said, ‘Not even for $3.5 million?’ ” Solski added. “And he said ‘Maybe next week.’ ... I don’t think it hit him at all.”
In fact, there was no need for Tagarook to head north. Solski came to Anchorage on Tuesday and presented him with a jumbo 2-foot-by-5-foot check at Moose A’La Mode.
Comments on the Lotto Alaska Facebook page ranged from sincere congratulations to jokes of possible kinship.
“Oh my uncle I (haven’t) seen in such a long time!” one Facebook user commented.
Another joked: “Congratulations. DNA ancestry says I’m your long lost grandson. I kid.”
Lotto Alaska is available only to people in-state, with 20 locations available from Fairbanks, North Pole and Tok to Anchorage, Wasilla and even Kodiak. Tickets can also be purchased online using geolocation technology.
The lottery has grown substantially since it launched in January 2017. The winner of the first drawing that year took home $329.60, while the first prize of 2023 was over $137,000, Solski said.
Solski said many Alaskans are unaware of Lotto Alaska, which is not associated with any Outside or national lotteries.
“We’ve been doing this for five years and I bet if you stood on a street corner in Anchorage and asked people if they knew about the Alaska lottery, 80% of them wouldn’t even know we exist,” he said.
According to the lottery’s site, 50% of income from sales goes to expenses and nonprofits, 30% goes to the Chase the Ace jackpot and 20% goes to the weekly prize. Solski said the lotto generated $1.25 million for nonprofits in 2022 and $1.8 million since its inception in 2017.
More than 30 nonprofit organizations have received proceeds from the lottery, including the Alaska Outdoor Council, Interior Youth Basketball and the Alaska Trappers Association.
While Tagarook is the first millionaire in the history of Lotto Alaska, he won’t get to keep it all. Lotto Alaska is required by the IRS to withhold 24%, or more than $856,000, according to Solski.