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At 92, North Liberty man wins 'Lucky for Life' prize

CLIVE — Taking the lump-sum cash option was kind of a no-brainer for Charles “Chuck” Svatos when he claimed his Lucky for Life winnings Tuesday at the Iowa Lottery headquarters.

He turned 92 last July.

The North Liberty man treated his daughter to lunch at Cracker Barrel after becoming the third Iowan to defy the one-in-1,813,028 odds of matching five numbers to claim the second-level Lucky for Life prize.

The payout can be taken either by receiving $25,000 a year for life, or taking the cash lump sum of $390,000. After federal and state taxes, Svatos’ check was for $273,000, according to lottery officials.

“Nobody knows it yet,” said Svatos as he claimed his winnings. “I don’t know what they’ll say. They’ll probably say I thought you were broke.”

Svatos, who worked for 39 years at an Iowa City dairy before retiring, said he has played the lottery since its inception in Iowa in 1985. But the best prize he previously claimed was $6.

That changed when he picked random numbers last month at Gasby’s convenience store in North Liberty.

“He goes there every weekend, gets coffee, sits at the table, fills out his little cards and turns them in and a week later checks the numbers. So he went a week without knowing that he won,” said Doris Baxter, Svatos’ daughter, who accompanied him to lottery headquarters.

A Gasby’s employee knew someone had won a major prize, and told Svatos when he eventually checked his numbers that “‘Well, you finally hit it.’ I thought he was just pulling my leg, but he wasn’t. He didn’t say how much it was.”

Baxter said her father was “pretty shaky” when he stopped by to ask her how much she made a day. “I said, why? What do you need? He goes, ‘I need you to take me to Cedar Rapids tomorrow.’

“I’m like, well, I can probably leave work for a few hours, but then when he showed me why and I’m on my phone looking on the internet, I said this is pretty good, I think you need to go to Des Moines,” said Baxter, who drove him to the headquarters in Clive.

“We were surprised when we first got the call and that he would play Lucky for Life at 92, but with the cash option it worked out well for him,” said Iowa Lottery Chief Executive Officer Terry Rich. “This is a fun winner. With all the crazy stuff happening in the world today, this is what makes our day really fun to have a winner like this. Somebody who deserves it and just a genuinely nice guy.”

Svatos said he had a foreshadowing of his changing luck earlier when he opened two fortune cookies at a casino in Rock Island, Ill., that he carries in his billfold. One said he would come into some wealth, and the other predicted he would take a trip.

Besides living comfortably in his retirement home, Svatos said he plans to travel to Hawaii and Switzerland. “They’re someplace I’ve always wanted to go,” he told Rich, who interviewed him for a winner’s video before presenting him with an oversized check.

Baxter said her dad takes bus trips but added “if he goes to a big place like that, he needs an attendant or, my sister is retired, maybe she could go with him. I feel uncomfortable with him traveling on his own, but if they had somebody who would help him, that would be better,” she added.

Svatos conceded he wished he had won his big prize when he was younger, but didn’t seem to let it bother him as he posed with Rich for photos with his thumb up with his new winnings.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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