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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

35 Million Reasons to Skip Work

Lottery: A single mother from Oxnard borrows $5 from her 9-year-old daughter and parlays it into winning Quick Pick ticket.

March 24, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — There were 35 million reasons why Renee Cervantes decided not to report to work Thursday and five of them started with her daughter's birthday party.

Those are the $5 of birthday money the 24-year-old single mother borrowed from 9-year-old Jessica to test her luck on the lottery Wednesday night--money that paid off with a $35-million SuperLotto jackpot.

"My mom called and said somebody from Oxnard won and maybe it was one of us," said Cervantes, who typically plays when the jackpot hits double digits. "The first ones started matching and I began to think, 'Oh, maybe I did.' I showed them to my grandpa to be sure, and he was like 'Yeah, you won!' "

Her ticket marks the third time that the 7-Eleven on Channel Islands Boulevard has sold a winning SuperLotto ticket. It is the best record for any store in the state: $60 million, based on the lump sums winners have chosen to take, according to state lottery officials.

"This is a lucky store," said Jaswant Tiwana, who bought the 7-Eleven three months ago after working at one in Buena Park for several years. "My [4-month-old] baby is good luck. After he was born, we bought the store, we moved to Oxnard and, now, we are Lotto winners."

The store will split its 1/2% of the winnings with its parent company. Tiwana's take is $87,500.

Even after learning of her monumental good fortune, Cervantes had every intention of going to her job as a medical assistant Thursday afternoon. There were patients she had been worrying about, and she had many other duties to take care of.

But, there--dancing at the back of her mind--was all that money.

So instead, Cervantes, who works at Harbor Medical Center in Ventura, called in rich. And she high-tailed it to Van Nuys to trade in her Quick Pick ticket at the lottery office there.

Following her decision to take her money in a lump sum, she will receive a check for $16,599,086.65 in about a month, said Ulysses Carter, Van Nuys district manager.

It's not every day that someone wins millions of dollars, but Cervantes has taken this very calmly. She has a level head. She is not easily excitable. The rest of the family, on the other hand. . . .

Her mom bounded through the house to persuade her daughter to hurry, hurry, hurry for their trip to Van Nuys. Her sisters tumbled in through the front door to teasingly hint for cash gifts. Little Jessica brought a pack of school friends from Sunkist Elementary to mug for the Los Angeles TV cameras on the front lawn.

Cervantes will pay her daughter back the $5 she owes her, she promised. She is sure of that. Beyond that, who knows what she will do with the money?

She will stay in the modest south Oxnard home where she lives with her grandfather, mother, daughter and three other relatives. A neighbor just planned a trip to Hawaii, so maybe she will join her? She will definitely pay off student loans to get creditors off her back.

But she hasn't had time to think about riches. And she has worked too hard for her job to give it up.

When Cervantes' boss reached her on the phone, the first words were: "It was nice working with you."

But Cervantes swears she won't go, although the pay is low. Multimillions of dollars? All the more reason to keep working, she said.

"Now, I can afford to work there."

Wednesday's win cements Ventura County's reputation as a win-big kind of place.

Allan's Wine & Lotto in Port Hueneme, which has the fifth-highest lottery sales in the state with 1.8 million tickets last year, has had five winners since SuperLotto began, although none since 1996.

The record-setting Oxnard 7-Eleven doesn't even make the top 100 rankings for sales. Last year, Ventura County residents spent $60 million and won $29 million, which includes no SuperLotto winnings.

The year before was a banner one, with $59 million in sales and $78 million in winnings.

"You've got Allan's and the 7-Eleven," said Cathy Doyle Johnston, state Lotto spokeswoman. "You also get the beaches. It's just your good luck."

Of course, odds are better that you will be hit by lightning. You have a 1 in 18 million chance of picking the winning six numbers.

For some, that is no barrier.

"I always play here because of the reputation," Jose Valencia of Oxnard said as he bought a couple of tickets at the 7-Eleven. "They say lightning can strike twice."

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