Cool Million: Lunch Money Buys a Winner for Gail Croft

By CHRIS BURRELL

It was supposed to be her lunch money for Wednesday, but Gail Croft decided to drop her last $10 bill on two more scratch tickets Tuesday night.

The odds were less than one in three million, but when she saw the letter "L," the Martha's Vineyard Hospital social worker and Island native felt that first happy sensation.

She had won the newest instant game in the Massachusetts State Lottery - $1 million.

"I always scratch right to left," she told the Gazette yesterday as she stood outside the double doors to the acute care wing of the hospital.

She looks for dollar signs under that silver coating, but it was the last part of the abbreviation, "MIL," that caught her eye. "I gotta tell you that was a clue," she said.

Ms. Croft, a great-grandmother who barely looks 50 but is actually well into her 60s, has already claimed the first installment of the prize - $35,000. She will receive $50,000, before taxes, for each of the next 19 years.

She purchased the winning ticket from Tedeschi's Market in East Falmouth, right around the corner from where her son lives. They had a celebration that night, and the next morning, Ms. Croft went straight to Braintree to cash in her prize.

Tuesday was the first day that the state unveiled its latest instant game called Royal Riches, which will pay out 10 $1-million prizes. Ms. Croft already bagged one of those jackpots, and she is crediting the cashier for cajoling her into buying more than she planned.

The fact is she had just bought four of the instant tickets for $20 and was reluctant to part with the last of her cash.

"I wasn't going to but I bought two more. I had $10 left in my pocket, and I thought, ‘I can't spend that. It's lunch money tomorrow,' " she said.

But the cashier prodded Ms. Croft a little, and she relented. The winning card, she said, was definitely one of those last two purchased. "It's the best $10 I ever spent," she said.

Back at work yesterday, Ms. Croft said she has no plans to quit her full-time job. "It's not enough to retire on," she said.

She was clearly the hit of the hospital this week as co-workers congratulated her and ribbed her at the same time.

A basket of flowers came from Morrice the Florist just after the lunch hour. The inscription on the card stated: "You lucky sucker!!! From all of us."

There were hugs and laughter from her friends. "Now that you're rich, who's your buddy?" said a nurse as she walked by Ms. Croft.

"You really can know someone who wins," said emergency service director Dr. Alan Hirshberg as he strolled by the acute care center and saw the lucky winner.

"I've created nothing but pandemonium around here this morning," said Ms. Croft. "Everyone's so excited, nobody wants to work."

She has worked around this hospital campus for the last six years, three of them at Windemere. Before that, she was a social worker at Falmouth Hospital but was laid off after the merger with Cape Cod Hospital.

She is part of the Amaral family on the Vineyard and lives in an old house in the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs, a house that will soon be getting an upgrade thanks to the lottery winnings.

"I have eight children, and I just shared a little of it with them," she said.

Ms. Croft is toying with a trip to - where else? - Disney World. For now, she's just basking in the glory of her good fortune and happy to take part in the good humor it's generated.

"You lookin' for me?" she said to a hospital employee in the hall. "Do I have unpaid debts?"

The Royal Riches game is part of the growing number of instant games run by the state lottery. In the fiscal year 2001, the Massachusetts State Lottery generated more than $3.9 billion in gross revenues, a six per cent increase from the previous year.

That growth is largely due to the $5 instant tickets such as the kind that Ms. Croft bought. Nearly 70 per cent of lottery revenues come from the instant ticket games.

Last year, more than $276,000 in state lottery revenue was distributed to the six Island towns.