NJ Lottery players get second chance at a big win

“No way, you just won a million dollars!”

It’s the kind of moment you dream of. For Suzanne and Rocco Valluzzi, on Friday it became reality.

“I’m completely in shock, completely. I can’t even believe this has happened,” said Suzanne.

The Hazlet couple is one of 15 winners entering into the New Jersey Lottery Million Dollar Replay program, turning losing Instant New Jersey lottery tickets into big bucks.

“It was a way to kind of giving back to our players,” said John White, acting executive director of the New Jersey Lottery. “We do fund it with unclaimed prizes and what it is, it’s a way of making sure that if they didn’t get a chance to win the big prize, they have a second chance to win basically life-changing money.”

Life-changing for some potential 400 semifinalists. Almost all of them gathered at the Asbury Park Convention Center on Friday waiting with bated breath during every suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat, butterflies-in-the-stomach announcement.

Rich Tutko of Gloucester County had the $100,000 ticket. In all, $1.5 million was given out in second-chance prizes. You’d think there would be some spend thrifts in the crowd. Call it a sign of the times, or a sign of good character that the money will be put to good, practical use.

“It means we’re not going to be stressing over college expenses and really that’s it. I won’t be working seven days a week,” said winner Rich Tutko.

“It’s college for my son, you know, helping out family and just paying off bills,” said Suzanne.

Well, almost all of it.

Bernadette Malenzi said since she doesn’t have any debts to pay off, she’s planning on spending her $50,000 in winnings.

“Like, I’m not awake. Like, I’m having another one of my dreams,” she said.

Like most of the lottery players, Malenzi’s ticket purchase is an almost religious part of her daily ritual. But it’s events like it that keep people coming back.

“I’ve been without power since Friday, I’m getting a generator and more tattoos. Amen to that,” said Richard Kattermann of Randolph, as he waited to find out if he had won one of the big prizes.

As the saying goes, you’ve got to play to win. And even though all the major prizes are out, there’s still a room full of hopefuls pressing their luck because in New Jersey, anything can happen. 

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