Fort Worth man describes life after winning the lottery

Posted Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Top local lottery retailers

Here's a look at the top 10 Texas lottery retailers in Tarrant County in 2012.

Store

Address

City

2012 sales

Chuck's Grocery

700 Secretary Dr.

Arlington

$1.8 million

Diamond Convenience Store

540 Keller Parkway

Keller

$1.04 million

Crowley Shell

101 N. Crowley Rd.

Crowley

$1.02 million

Minit Market

2101 Bedford Rd. "A"

Bedford

$902,082

Hitching Post Grocery

5101 Wilbarger St.

Fort Worth

$862,984

Quik Sak

8717 White Settlement Rd.

White Settlement

$835,012

Payless Fuel/Riverside

350 N. Riverside Dr.

Fort Worth

$745,194

Quick Way Food Store No. 5

6701 E. Lancaster Ave.

Fort Worth

$728,499

Meadowbrook Food Store

6611 Meadowbrook Dr.

Fort Worth

$707,148

Quik Sak

8801 Clifford St.

White Settlement

$702,777

Source: Texas Lottery Commission

Words of advice

for lottery winners

If you are ever lucky enough to win a sizable jackpot, remember these tips from the professionals:

Make several photocopies of the ticket and put the original in a safe-deposit box or a home safe.

Sign the ticket.

Hire an attorney who is knowledgeable about tax issues and consider adding a financial planner and accountant.

Once you receive your money, pay off your debts, decide on charitable donations and plan for retirement. After that, you can make special purchases such as a car, a house or a vacation.

Limit what you withdraw so you don't overspend.

Sources: David Bakke, Money Crashers Personal Finance; David Rae, Trilogy Financial Services

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

FORT WORTH -- Nothing stops Mario Mercado from buying tickets each week for Saturday's Lotto Texas drawing.

Not even winning the lottery.

Mercado, 52, is one of 10 Bell Helicopter workers who claimed a $28 million lottery prize last year -- the most recent jackpot-winning ticket sold in Fort Worth until last week's $16 million ticket.

And he still buys tickets every week -- on the same day, at the same store, with the same people, for the same weekly drawing.

"I like to call ourselves the 'Texas 10,'" Mercado, of Fort Worth, told the Star-Telegram in his first interview since claiming the money nine months ago. "We're not going to give up on winning again.

"We've been very fortunate," he said. "God has blessed us."

Mercado is voicing his support for the lottery even as gambling opponents are calling on lawmakers to kill it, saying the state agency preys on those who can least afford to play.

Winners such as Mercado represent the "prettiest picture the industry can draw," said Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Christian Life Commission, part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. "But that's not where the Texas lottery makes its money. Their wheelhouse is selling scratch-off tickets, which have gone up from $1 all the way to $50 ... and these sales are happening in neighborhoods where public assistance is high. We don't think it's a good thing."

Mercado thinks lottery opponents are overstepping their bounds.

"Who are they to tell people what to do with their money?" he said. "What's going to stop someone from getting into a car and going to WinStar" casino in Oklahoma?

"Now that I have won, a lot of friends at work say they know it can happen, that people really can win," he said. "It not only has changed our lives, but it has changed the outlook of other people."

In May, Mercado and his co-workers held a winning ticket for the state's $28 million drawing.

Having chosen the cash option, the 10 split $21 million, each taking home $1.6 million after taxes.

Mercado, a self-described frugal spender, admitted that he splurged a little.

Once he had his winnings, he paid off his mortgage; renovated his home, including adding another bathroom; paid off bills; and bought a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible and a 2012 custom-built Harley-Davidson Switchback for himself, as well as a 2013 Volkswagen for his wife, Donna.

And he, along with the others in the group, bumped the weekly contribution to the lottery ticket pool from $5 to $10.

The rest is in the bank or invested, as Mercado remains committed to one idea.

"My goal is to stay a millionaire," he said with a smile.

New winning ticket

The winning ticket in Wednesday's $16 million Lotto Texas drawing was sold at Valero Corner Store, 4150 Bryant Irvin Road, in southwest Fort Worth. Texas Lottery Commission officials say the winner has yet to come forward.

But the winner could learn a thing or two from Mercado and his group.

In late 2011, Mercado persuaded each of the co-workers to contribute $5 a week. He took the $50 and bought tickets for the Saturday night drawing.

After a while, he decided to buy the tickets every Thursday from the Crossroads Shell Station on Western Center Boulevard. Then he made photocopies and gave each player one before the drawing.

Five months into it, the second week of May was no different.

Mercado didn't have a chance to check the numbers until Sunday morning, Mother's Day, when he was reading the newspaper. Then he checked, and rechecked, almost finding it hard to believe that one set of the group's numbers -- 13, 36, 38, 45, 46, 49 -- matched.

He yelled at his wife: "I think we won the lottery! We are rich."

He double-checked the results on the Internet and gathered his winning co-workers at Billy Miner's Saloon to celebrate.

"I was so happy, I stayed drunk for about a week," he said.

But he was also anxious and unable to sleep -- so much so that he went to the doctor.

"My blood pressure was off the charts. My ankles were swollen," Mercado said. "He had to give me anxiety pills."

About three weeks after the drawing -- after paperwork had been submitted to create the Bell Employees' Lottery Revocable Trust -- Mercado and his co-workers each had $1.6 million deposited in their bank accounts.

They were the first Tarrant County residents in a decade to claim a major jackpot.

"I saw the money on the computer in my account, and I said, 'Donna, we are millionaires,'" Mercado said. "It was such a relief, such a blessing."

Donna Mercado said, "Very few people will experience that feeling."

Improving lives

Before winning the lottery, Mario Mercado said, he would lie in bed, trying to sleep, crunching numbers.

He would calculate when he should have his mortgage paid off and how much money he should have in savings before he retired.

Now he sleeps easy.

"My house is paid for. I have no credit debts," he said. "I owe no one and by the grace of God, I'll stay that way."

His co-winners choose to keep their names private, but Mercado said many are doing similar things with their winnings.

Some bought houses or cars. Others paid off mortgages and cars.

One winner bought a home that cost around $500,000; another bought a brand-new Lincoln Navigator the day he received the money.

"That's what they wanted to do," Donna Mercado said.

Only one of the 10 has retired.

Mario Mercado still works as a dispatcher at Bell Helicopter's Roanoke office, but his wife retired from her job as a court clerk.

"After nine months, everybody still has money," Mercado said. "About once a week, we all talk about what we are doing with our money, how we are investing it."

End the lottery?

Gambling opponents say Mercado and his co-workers are the exception to the rule.

And they'd like to see the Texas Lottery Commission -- one of 24 state agencies that lawmakers will review this year to determine whether they should continue operating -- close its doors for good.

No bill has been filed to continue the Lottery Commission, but observers expect one to be filed before the March 8 deadline.

But Kohler, of the Christian Life Commission, is watching and talking to lawmakers.

"The lottery has proved to be a regressive tax that's taking money out of areas in our cities and state that are hurting," he said. "The state should not be tricking these folks. It ultimately has become what it promised not to be -- a tax that would prey on the poor and minorities of the state."

The Dallas NAACP chapter weighed in last year, saying it is frustrated that poor and minority Texans are spending their money on tickets rather than necessities such as rent and health insurance.

And the group decided to encourage state officials to end the lottery.

"People oftentimes make decisions not in their best interests," Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas chapter, has told the Star-Telegram. "We have to look out for those people."

Since the lottery began in Texas in 1992, sales have grown to more than $3 billion a year.

Through the years, officials say, the lottery has generated more than $20 billion for the state.

Before 1997, lottery proceeds went to the state's general fund. Since then, they have gone to the Foundation School Fund, which is overseen by the Texas Education Agency.

The lottery has transferred more than $15 billion into the school fund, officials announced last month.

Still frugal

Mercado said lottery opponents are "barking up the wrong tree." He said winning the lottery gave him a great gift -- peace of mind. And it hasn't really changed him.

He said his family and friends still make fun of him for being frugal -- and clipping coupons for the grocery store.

"I have always been good with my money," he said. "Everybody calls me a tightwad. ... They say my wallet squeaks when I open it."

"That has not changed," Donna Mercado said with a smile.

But some problems do go hand in hand with winning the lottery, Mario Mercado said.

Strangers have called to ask for contributions or for financing for a startup company. Long-lost friends have suddenly reappeared, wanting to get together. And many people have simply asked for financial help.

"In the beginning, people were calling to say congratulations," Mercado said. "After the dust settled, people were calling wanting me to donate money to different causes."

He and his wife say they donate -- but to causes of their choice.

Mercado doesn't rule out that his group might win the jackpot again.

But he's trying to make the right investments so he will have plenty of money in the future.

"I really don't want to be on that program The Lottery Ruined My Life," Mercado said.

"We won't be," his wife said.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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