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10 Charlotte co-workers win $1 million Powerball prize

Two years of playing the lottery paid off Monday for 10 employees at Carpet Discount Warehouse in Charlotte after they won a $1 million prize.

Charles Rush, 77, who owns the warehouse on Independence Boulevard and runs the lottery pool, approaches the N.C. Education Lottery’s Powerball with consistent, secret strategy.

The owner splits the costs equally and picks the same combinations of numbers every time. Every player throws in $12, and Rush buys $120 worth of tickets each week.

“That $12 a week doesn’t hurt anybody,” Rush said.

It worked. Each of the 10 participants took home $69,250 after taxes. Most contributed more than $1,000 over the past couple years.

Rush said he learned how to play the numbers from his late father, who would gamble when they lived in Dallas.

He refuses to share how he picked his winning numbers – 6, 8, 13, 37 and 40 – or any others.

Kirk Rush, Charles Rush’s son and part owner of the business, was the first to realize the group’s good luck the morning after the drawing.

As is his routine, Kirk Rush was at home checking the numbers on a computer when he saw the group’s ticket matched all five white balls in the drawing, beating odds of 1 in 5.1 million. The average person is about four times more likely to become a movie star, according to the “Book of Odds.”

He screamed.

“I think my wife thought I had a heart attack,” he said.

His father was less enthused, saying he had been more excited when he first shot a 9-foot Alaska brown bear in 2008. The stuffed bear and winning ticket now both live in his warehouse.

Charles Rush only sees the win as a step in the process. He’d already won a small lottery before and considers the $1 million win a medium award. Next up, a $40 million or more win, “the big one.”

“It’s business as usual,” he said.

The owner collects the money every week and puts it in a box he gave the tongue-in-cheek label “401k.”

He said the group played every Powerball drawing since they began, except for one week about a year ago, when he forgot. Usually he’d buy them at Queen City Food Mart, a convenience store on the same block.

Aron Gebre, a four-year Queen City Food Mart employee who sold the ticket, was excited to hear the group won but hoped he’d get a cut too.

“I thought I won,” he joked.

Tony Young of Charlotte, an installation specialist at the store, told lottery officials he knows what he’ll do with at least part of the proceeds. “I hear Hawaii is nice this time of year,” he said. Kirk Rush said he’s heading to Jacksonville where he likes to play poker.

His father encouraged all the winners to save their money responsibly. Some of them can pay off some small debts now, he said. He will make just a single purchase.

“I’ll buy my wife one nice dinner,” he said.

The other winners are Jean Atkinson of Matthews, Robert Coulam of Charlotte, Reid Glenn of Waxhaw, Gelacio Rios of Matthews, Johanna Tinajero of Charlotte and Amy Watkins of Greensboro, Ga.

Mecklenburg County has received about $297 million in lottery funds since the lottery began in March 2006.

Since the lottery began in 2006, North Carolina has awarded total prizes of $1 million or more about 200 times, data show. Those prizes could have gone to individual winners or multiple winners for the same game.

The biggest single winner came in 2010, when an Asheville resident cashed a Powerball ticket worth more than $141 million. Gavin Off contributed to the story.

Marusak: 704-358-5067;

Twitter: @jmarusak;

Taylor: 704-358-5353;

Twitter: @LangstonITaylor

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