June 24, 2013 – Just days before his wedding, Louis Gardner picked up one of the Illinois Lottery’s Fourth of July Millionaire Raffle tickets after his wife told him to give it a try.
“What a wedding present,” he told Lottery officials Friday, as they presented him with his ceremonial check for $500,000.
“I cried when I found out that we won,” Gardner said. “I’ve never won anything before this. I feel so blessed.”
The prize was more than just a surprise wedding gift – lucky Louis found out he’d won the half-million dollar prize on his then-fiancee’s birthday, only four days before their wedding!
He stopped to check the ticket on Father’s Day, after dropping flowers at his father’s grave, and said he thought he’d made a mistake when scanning the ticket.
“I must have put it in the wrong way, let me turn it around,” Gardner remembered thinking. “I’m so used to seeing ‘sorry no winner.'”
Gardner told a local CBS News radio host that when it comes to following his wife’s advice he’s “half-and-half,” but that he’d be listening more closely now.
The couple, who have been together 15 years and have four children and eight grandchildren, say the money is “going to be squeezed real tight.”
They plan to use their surprise wedding gift to pay bills, invest, and donate to their church.
Gardner had a piece of advice for other players waiting for their first win: have faith.