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What is the largest lottery winner in Minnesota history?

Minnesota has had its fair share of big lottery winners over the years. With multiple games like Powerball, Mega Millions, and various scratch games offering life-changing jackpots, Minnesotans have won hundreds of millions of dollars from the state lottery. But who is the biggest lottery winner in Minnesota history? Let’s take a look at some of the state’s largest jackpot winners to find out.

Top Minnesota Lottery Winners

Here are the top 5 biggest Minnesota lottery winners of all time:

Winner Game Year Jackpot
Jim and Star Jacobs Powerball 1998 $111 million
Thomas and Holly Hancock Powerball 2000 $94.8 million
James Campbell Powerball 2008 $79.1 million
Paul White Powerball 2013 $149.4 million
Neal Wanless Powerball 2009 $232.1 million

As you can see, there have been several massive lottery winners from Minnesota over the past couple decades. But one winner stands out from the rest as having scored the biggest Minnesota lottery jackpot ever.

The Largest Minnesota Lottery Winner

The biggest lottery winner in Minnesota state history was Neal Wanless, who won a whopping $232.1 million Powerball jackpot in 2009. At the time, it was the second largest Powerball prize awarded to a single winner in U.S. lottery history.

Wanless, a 23-year-old from the small town of Elk River, Minnesota, purchased his lucky ticket from a Holiday gas station in his hometown. The jackpot had rolled over for several weeks before Wanless hit on the winning numbers of 11, 16, 36, 48, 52, and the Powerball of 36.

“I can’t believe I won,” Wanless said at the time. “I’m just in shock.”

Wanless could have taken the full $232.1 million prize spread out over 30 annual payments. But he opted instead for the $156.3 million cash lump sum option. After state and federal taxes, Wanless walked away with over $88 million in his pocket.

At just 23 years old, Wanless became the youngest major jackpot winner in Minnesota. His massive Powerball windfall was life changing not just for himself, but his family as well. Wanless shared his winnings with parents, siblings, and other relatives.

“This will help a lot of people, not just me,” he said.

How the Winning Ticket Was Bought

In interviews after his historic win, Wanless said he normally didn’t play the lottery very often. But for some reason, he decided to stop at the Holiday gas station after work on May 27, 2009 and purchase two Powerball tickets for that night’s drawing.

“It was just random luck that I bought the tickets,” Wanless said.

He left one ticket in his truck, and absentmindedly stuffed the other ticket in his wallet. The next day, he heard the news that a winning Powerball ticket had been sold in Elk River. He retrieved the crumpled ticket from his wallet and checked the numbers.

“I didn’t believe what I was seeing at first,” Wanless said. “So I kept checking the numbers over and over.”

Sure enough, the wrinkled ticket in his wallet matched the winning numbers. “My heart sank. I couldn’t breathe,” he recalled. “That’s when I realized, oh my God, I just won the Powerball.”

Claiming the Record Jackpot

Wanless understandably wanted to keep his big win quiet until he could get his affairs in order. He did not come forward publicly until two weeks after the drawing.

“I needed time for the shock to wear off before I came forward,” he said. “I just wanted to lay low.”

He contacted a financial advisor to help him manage his newfound fortune wisely. With the advisor’s guidance, Wanless formed a limited liability corporation with his family members to claim the prize money in a lump sum.

When Wanless finally came forward at Minnesota State Lottery headquarters to claim the jackpot, the lottery verified the winning numbers on the ticket. Lottery officials also confirmed that Wanless had matched all five white balls plus the red Powerball to win the multimillion dollar prize.

“This is the largest Powerball prize ever won in Minnesota,” said state lottery director Clint Harris at the time. “We’re thrilled that a Minnesota lottery player has become an overnight multi-millionaire.”

The Holiday gas station that sold Wanless the lucky ticket received a $50,000 bonus commission for selling the winning ticket. “It’s great news for the store and our community,” said gas station manager Peter Kim.

Plans for the Mega Millions

Like many lottery winners, Wanless said he had some immediate plans for his new fortune, but would take time to carefully consider long term goals.

“In the short term, I’m going to buy a nice house and a nice car,” he told reporters. “But mostly I plan to invest the bulk of the money and live comfortably off the interest.”

Wanless said his parents and siblings would all share in the jackpot. “I want to make sure my whole family is taken care of first,” he emphasized.

He did indulge in a few big ticket purchases within the first few months of winning, including luxury vacations to Europe and the Caribbean with family and friends. He also donated money to several local charities in Elk River.

But true to his word, Wanless has maintained a relatively low profile lifestyle despite his massive lottery fortune. He also invested a large chunk of his winnings to create long-lasting wealth for both himself and his family.

Impact on the Local Community

The ripple effect of Wanless’ record $232 million jackpot extended beyond just himself and his family. His win was also a boon for local businesses in his small hometown of Elk River.

The media attention and publicity surrounding Wanless’ Powerball victory brought an influx of visitors to the town. People wanted to visit the Holiday station where he bought the lucky ticket, and patronize the stores and restaurants where the young winner was known to frequent.

“It really put Elk River on the map,” said local chamber of commerce president emeritus, Julie Nortrom. “The whole town celebrated the big win along with him.”

Elk River leaders credit the Powerball publicity with generating greater interest in the community from prospective homeowners and businesses. Within a couple years of Wanless’ jackpot, Elk River saw significant growth including new housing developments, retail stores, and a hospital expansion.

“There was definitely a halo effect on the community,” Nortrom said.

City officials say the fortune and fame stemming from Wanless’ record lottery win provided a lasting economic boost for the small town.

Reaction to the Mega Millions Jackpot

News of Wanless’ huge Powerball prize captured the attention of Minnesota, and made headlines across the country in 2009. At the time, it was one of the largest lottery jackpots ever awarded to a single winner nationwide.

Given Wanless’ very young age, many expressed extra amazement at his astounding win. “When I heard someone under 25 won over $200 million, I just shook my head in disbelief,” said Minnesota resident Tyler Jones. “What an incredible amount of money to fall into at that young age. It’s every kid’s dream.”

Others in Minnesota saw Wanless as inspiration to keep testing their own lottery luck. “If he can win, anyone can,” said longtime Minnesota lottery player Carol Pritchard. “His big win gives me hope that maybe I could get lucky too. You just never know.”

Wanless’ jackpot also caught the attention of government officials concerned with lottery oversight. “We want big Powerball winners, but also need to ensure proper procedures and transparency when someone wins this big,” said Minnesota state senator George Keller.

Keller and others called for review of lottery regulations, dealer training protocols, and winner protection measures in the aftermath of Wanless’ attention-grabbing win.

All in all, Wanless was seen as a grounded, good representative for such an enormous prize. A local pastor in Elk River complimented his character amid the sudden money and fame.

“He’s handling it with grace and wisdom beyond his years,” said Pastor Neil Abbott. “This young man has a good head on his shoulders. His family raised him right.”

Has Anyone Surpassed the Record Win Since?

In the 14 years since Neal Wanless won his $232.1 million Powerball prize, no one else has topped the mark as the biggest Minnesota lottery winner.

A few notable large jackpots have been awarded in the state since 2009, including:

  • In 2016, a $72.9 million Powerball prize split between 12 workers at a county public works department.
  • In 2018, a $156.4 million Powerball jackpot won by a middle-aged couple from Wabasha.
  • In 2020, a $110 million Powerball prize claimed by a 40-year-old woman from Bloomington.

While substantial, none of these jackpots matched Wanless’ record-breaking 2009 windfall.

Wanless himself has not won any major lottery prizes since his big Powerball score 14 years ago. But at just 37 years old today, he certainly has plenty of time left to potentially strike lottery gold again.

For now though, Neal Wanless still reigns as the undisputed largest Minnesota state lottery winner in history with his $232.1 million jackpot prize.

Takeaways on the Biggest MN Lottery Winner

In summary, here are some key facts about Neal Wanless’ record lottery haul in Minnesota:

  • Wanless won $232.1 million Powerball jackpot in May 2009
  • He was just 23 years old at the time, making him the state’s youngest mega jackpot winner
  • The winning ticket was purchased on a whim at a Holiday gas station in his hometown of Elk River
  • Wanless claimed the lump sum cash option of $156.3 million
  • After taxes, he took home over $88 million
  • He shared the windfall with family and donated to local charities
  • 14 years later, Wanless’ jackpot remains Minnesota’s largest ever lottery prize

Wanless’ unexpected windfall reminds us that life can change in an instant with a little bit of luck. His record $232 million prize stands as the pinnacle of lottery success in Minnesota state history thus far. Though future lottery winners may eventually surpass Wanless’ mark, his legendary jackpot will likely inspire Minnesota lottery players for years to come.


Winning over $200 million in the lottery is a life-altering event that only a fortunate few will ever experience. Neal Wanless holds the honor of the largest Minnesota state lottery winner after taking home a $232.1 million Powerball jackpot in 2009 at just 23 years old.

His record-breaking prize has not yet been topped in the 14 years since. The chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars continues to drive many Minnesotans to try their luck every day. But Wanless’ historic windfall remains the pinnacle that all future state lottery winners will aspire to reach.

Though Wanless understandably kept a low profile after his win, he served as a grounded, responsible representative for such staggering wealth. His prize money positively impacted not only himself and his family, but also his small hometown community of Elk River.

Neal Wanless’ mega millions jackpot established him as a legend in Minnesota lottery history. His story provides inspiration and hope that even the most modest player can be made wealthy overnight with a single ticket. That dream of striking it ultra-rich keeps Minnesota lottery players coming back to take a chance at becoming the state’s next big winner.