BELLA VISTA, Calif. — Several people playing California's lottery have won more than John Fruits. But you might be hard-pressed to find anybody who has won more often.
"I've always been fairly lucky all through my life," said Fruits, a 47-year-old landscape gardener, after proving the point Monday with a $25,000 instant-winner ticket.
He has previously won numerous $2 and $5 lottery prizes, two prizes of $100, one of $5,000 and another for $10,000. Fruits would like to get a $1,000 winner to complete his set, and he still has two chances of winning millions in the lottery's "Big Spin."
"This was a piece of cake," Fruits said after filing his latest claim. "I could have had the $1,000. I was on the way to the store to get (lottery tickets), and my son's car broke down, so I went over to help him. While I was over there, somebody won the $1,000."
Bad luck, maybe, but there has been enough good luck that his daughter gave him a trophy at Christmas inscribed "Lottery King" and his face is well-known at the lottery's Redding district office.
"I saw him out in the lobby and I recognized him because he's been in here several times," said Evelyn Neutze, who works at the office. "I thought, 'If he comes in here with a $25,000 winner, I'm going to faint.' "
Neutze's supervisor, district manager Sandra Jones, was also impressed. "This is phenomenal," she said. "Think of the odds."
Indeed, think of the odds: about 4,000 to 1 for each $100 prize, 40,000 to 1 for the $5,000 prize, 80,000 to 1 for the $10,000 ticket and 240,000 to 1 for the three scratch-off aces that carry a $25,000 prize.
"I've spent $4,500 on tickets," said Fruits, who buys them daily at different locations. He is still waiting for the checks to arrive for most of his winnings.
Bob Taylor, spokesman for the lottery's statewide office in Sacramento, said Fruits is the winningest lottery player he's aware of.
Fruits is hoping to beat the 625-to-1 odds needed to convert his status as a $100 winner into a chance, or two, of winning up to $3 million in the "Big Spin."