Top 10 Biggest NJ Lottery Jackpot Winners
Why play the lottery? Well to win the jackpot of course! We put together a top 10 of the biggest lottery wins in NJ to show just how often people win and how much money every winner received. Everybody loves referencing how your odds are greater of being struck by lightning twice than hitting a jackpot, but in New Jersey alone from January 1, 2021, to March 31, 2021, there have been 22 winners that hit prizes worth over a million dollars. Check out our top 10 biggest winners below and remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!
Richard Wahl- The largest jackpot ever won in NJ history was $533 million by 47-year old Richard Wahl then Vernon resident who purchased his ticket at a Lukoil gas station in Riverdale. Wahl had only been living in New Jersey for about a year when he entered the stakes for the Mega Millions. Wahl, who took the cash option of $324 million before relocating to Florida, is the owner of the highest lottery prize ticket sold in New Jersey and it happened back in 2018. After federal and state taxes were removed, he ended up with nearly $175 million in his pocket. Not bad for an initial two-dollar ticket!
Ocean’s 16- Mario Scarnici of the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick and 16 Ocean County vehicle maintenance employees dubbed “Ocean’s 16” by NJ.com held two out of 3 winning tickets of $448.4 million Powerball win. The win was back in 2013 and everybody involved instantaneously became millionaires and celebrities overnight. The third ticket was sold in Minnesota. After taxes, each of the 16 members of the Ocean County vehicle maintenance center walked away with $3.8 million dollars! This win is especially heartwarming because a lot of “Ocean’s 16” were dealing with serious issues caused by Hurricane Sandy. The lottery win allowed them to buy new homes previously ravaged by the hurricane and help terminally ill family members.
Pearlie Mae Smith- In 2016, a then 70-year-old Pearlie Mae Smith walked to the local 7-11 in Trenton to purchase two tickets for different drawings and spent an extra dollar on each to enable the Power Play option. Pearlie Mae Smith spent $6 in total at that 7-11. She and her family were the sole winners of a $429.6 million Powerball jackpot. At their press conference at NJLottery headquarters, Smith said the win was due to “Divine Intervention” and she revealed her methodology for picking the lucky numbers. "No birthdays, no anniversary dates. Through a dream." It was purchased as a cash ticket, which means they got their prize in the form of a lump sum of $284 million, or around $204,480,000 after taxes were subtracted.
Elaine and Howard Messner- Back in 2007, Elaine and Howard Messner from Cape May County, more specifically Upper Township split a $390 million jackpot with a player from Georgia giving them $87.4 million after taxes. The Messner’s were smart hiring a lawyer and accountant and spending two weeks creating a plan on how they would use their winnings. They did not claim their prize until two weeks after the drawing had occurred. According to Lotterypost, Harold Messner let the lottery computer choose the winning numbers 16, 22, 29, 39, and 42, with the Gold Mega Ball 20. These winners all seem to have something in common, none of them chose numbers based on birthdays or anniversaries!
Pedro Quezada- Previous Apple Deli Grocery owner and operator Pedro Quezada, a then 45-year-old from Passaic, won a lump sum of $211 million, or about $152 million after taxes in 2013. Pedro is a Dominican immigrant, father of 5, and won a $338.3 million Powerball jackpot from a ticket he purchased out of his own store. His days of operation for Apple Deli are long gone and when asked what his first purchase would be Quezada smiled and replied “a good car”. With his Powerball winnings, Quezada has enough to buy 100 “good cars”!
Jorge and Joanne Lopes- On April 16, 2002, Jorge and Joanne Lopes of Manalapan came forward and claimed their third of a jackpot prize. This came as a shock to NJ Lottery regulators and media personnel because a group of six nursing home employees in Newark were convinced their lottery pool had won. The winning tickets for the other states were sold in Georgia and Illinois. Each ticket's cash option was valued at roughly $58 million. Later in 2002, the Big Game was renamed Mega Millions.
John and Sandy Belawsky- Back in August of 2007, Sandy and John Belawsky of the Villas area of Lower Township were one of four jackpot-winning tickets. The others were purchased in Virginia, Texas, and Maryland. The Bellawskys, who were retired when John picked up the winning ticket opted for the cash option, receiving $48,615,187 before the federal withholding tax of 25%. John stated in their press release after winning that, “It’s amazing what can happen when you stop to pick up a newspaper and a few tickets.” Couldn’t agree more John.
Tayeb Souami- Tayeb Souami a 55-year-old accountant at the time from Little Ferry was the sole winner of a Powerball Jackpot valued at over $315.3 million in 2018. Originally from Africa, the Little Ferry native elected to take the cash payout, meaning he got $183.2 million, before taxes.
Michael J. Weirsky- Michael Weirsky from Alpha, in Warren County hit big on March 1, 2019, winning a $273 million MegaMillions jackpot. Weirsky bought the sole ticket that matched five numbers and the Mega Ball, opting for the $162.5 million cash option before taxes.
Helen & Harry Lerner- Harry and Helen of Rutherford won $258 million before taxes on September 16, 2005. Harry was a salesman and Helen worked for a pharmaceutical company. Harold and Helen chose the cash option and received around $117,075,000. At the time of the great triumph, Harold was 60 years old and Helen a little younger, but both stated they would be joining the unemployed world and living out the rest of the days enjoying themselves. They donated some of their winnings to Hurricane Katrina victims and to Seton Hall University, which is Helen’s alma mater.