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A veteran won a $4 million lottery prize using the numbers from a fortune cookie

Gabriel Fierro said he decided "on a whim" to play his fortune cookie numbers in last Tuesday's drawing — and ended up with the largest win in the history of Online Play in North Carolina.
Scott Olson
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Gabriel Fierro said he decided "on a whim" to play his fortune cookie numbers in last Tuesday's drawing — and ended up with the largest win in the history of Online Play in North Carolina.

A North Carolina veteran turned a restaurant meal into a Mega Millions jackpot after he used the numbers from his fortune cookie to win a $4 million prize.

Gabriel Fierro and his wife eat at the Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Charlotte, N.C., about once a week, according to the NC Education Lottery. Last week, however, their cookies were extra fortunate.

Fierro said he decided "on a whim" to play his fortune cookie numbers in last Tuesday's drawing — and ended up with the largest win in the history of Online Play in the state.

As the lottery explained in a blog post, Fierro bought his ticket using Online Play and added $1 to make it a Megaplier ticket (which would multiply any win). He matched all five white balls to win $1 million, which quadrupled to $4 million when the "4X Megaplier" hit.

Fierro initially couldn't believe his own luck.

"I got an email in the morning and I just stared at it dumbfounded," he said. "I took it and showed it to my wife and she thought it was an April Fool's joke or maybe a scam."

Then it sunk in, he said, and they ran around the house "screaming like a bunch of banshees."

(Side note: If you play, check your spam folder. A Michigan woman belatedly learned she won $3 million earlier this month while digging through her junk folder for something else.)

Fierro collected the prize on Thursday, taking home $2,840,401 after tax withholdings. The 60-year-old — who retired as a disabled combat veteran after spending 32 years in the Army, including time in Iraq — said he plans to invest most of his winnings.

FiveThirtyEight did an analysis several years ago in the hopes of figuring out just how lucky fortune cookie numbers really are. After plenty of calculations involving years' worth of historical data, they found: It's complicated.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.