SAN DIEGO — An Iraqi immigrant who left his country to escape the Iran-Iraq war was made $3.4 million richer Thursday when he became the first lottery winner whose six lucky numbers were picked by the California Lottery computer.
Sami Hermiz Pauls, 30, who works as a clerk in his cousin's liquor store in San Diego, became the state's first "quick pick" winner when the computer picked the winning combination of 16-41-14-13-43-17 in Wednesday night's drawing, said Bruce Cherubin, San Diego district manager for the lottery.
Lottery players are given the option of choosing their own numbers or playing numbers picked for them at random by a computer.
'Where Are the Girls?'
"I'm looking for Mrs. Right. . . . Where are all the girls?" said a grinning Pauls, a bachelor who said he spends about $30 a week on the lottery. Pauls said he will use his winnings to buy a new house for his parents, brother and sister, with whom he lives.
Pauls said he left Iraq five years ago to escape the war that has inflicted thousands of casualties on both sides and raised tensions in the Persian Gulf region. After living in Italy for a time, Pauls and his family obtained U.S. visas and moved to San Diego.
The liquor store clerk's fortune almost escaped him were it not for an unplanned visit to another cousin's liquor store Wednesday night. According to Pauls, he stopped at the store of his cousin Samir M. Hermiz and decided to play a $5 quick pick. It was the first time that he had bought a Lotto card at Hermiz's store, Pauls said.
Cherubin said that Hermiz will receive $17,100 for selling the winning ticket.
Pauls' winnings will be paid to him in 20 annual installments of $171,000 per year--$136,800 after taxes. Lottery officials will present Pauls with his first check next week at a ceremony at Hermiz's store, Palm Liquor, in South San Diego.
Unsure How to Spend It
Although he often fantasized about how he would spend the money if he won the lottery, Pauls said Thursday that he was not sure what he is going to do with his winnings after buying a house.
"You think before (about how to spend the money), but when you win, you don't know what you're going to do," he said.
Eventually, some of the winnings will be used to buy a business, Pauls said. "I'm not going to work for anyone anymore."
Another portion of the money will be given to his cousin who employs him, Pauls added.