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Q and A with Oregon Lottery Winner Awareness Coordinator Ray Martin

by: Jim CLARK, Winner awareness coordinator Ray Martin, who has a collection of money-themed ties from co-workers, gets to give people a lot of good news — except the detail about those pesky taxes, of course.

Every week the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

Ray Martin has the voice everybody wants to hear. Believe us, you want to speak to this man. In fact, if you've got Martin on the other end of the line, you can start packing your bags for a nice fat vacation.

Consider where Martin works - the Winner Awareness Complex. Is this a great country or what? Even winners have their own diagnosis.

Martin, the Oregon Lottery's winner awareness coordinator, has the enviable job of telling lottery winners just how much they've won, and helping them adjust to their new circumstances.

Walk into his office in Salem any time of the day, and the odds are pretty good some lottery winner will be there ready to cash in.

And when Martin isn't busy assisting winners, he's trying to find the winners who don't know they're winners.

Amazingly, Martin's list of winning tickets that have never been cashed includes hundreds of winners turned losers - people who held winning tickets but didn't cash them in within the required one-year period. Every year about $5 million in unclaimed lottery prize money goes back to the state. Permanently.

Right now, for instance, somebody in Tigard, or who bought a lottery ticket in Tigard, has $667,142 coming to them - if he or she turns in the ticket by February. And someone else who bought a ticket in Ashland last winter has until Feb. 18 to contact Martin and cash in his or her Powerball ticket for a cool $1.2 million.

And if they don't come forward in time, well, let's just hope they never learn of the opportunity that passed them by. Otherwise they're likely to think they're unlucky for the rest of their pitiful lives.

Portland Tribune: You've got a great job, don't you?

Ray Martin: I have a great job. I get to meet happy and excited people. My goal here is to make lottery winners' visit here as exciting and as much fun as I can make it.

Tribune: Any favorites?

Martin: About four years ago we had 11 women from Clackamas who worked together and won $2.5 million. They came in and the minute they got here you knew they were here. They were yelling and screaming and having a ball. We were just laughing, telling jokes and having fun.

Some of them took an annuity to get 20 annual payments. Every year now in May when their anniversary date comes up again they come down here and get their checks and we all go out to lunch.

Tribune: Who treats?

Martin: Usually I cover mine. They always want to buy, but I say no. I stay in touch with a lot of winners, and I've been invited to weddings and anniversaries.

Tribune: Oh, man, you do have a great job. Any others?

Martin: One of the fun things we get is people who come in and they're not sure how much they've won. When you look at a crossword puzzle scratch game it's hard sometimes to see every word.

I've had six to eight times when someone has come in and thought they'd uncovered nine words, which is a $1,000 prize. Once we sign their ticket it comes up that it's a $15,000 winner. I get to go back out there and I say, 'You made just one little mistake with your ticket.' Right away they think, 'Oh, no, I only had eight words.' And then I say, 'No, you had 10 words.' And I let them know they won $15,000.

Tribune: How do they react?

Martin: They just stare at you. Then it's usually, 'I have to sit down.' One man said, 'Ray, you don't know me well enough to kid me, do you?'

Tribune: Are those giant photo shoot checks really cashable?

Martin: I hope not, because I sign a lot of them. But I've had people who told me they've walked into a bank with that check and said, 'I'd like to deposit this.'

Tribune: How did you get a job like this?

Martin: I used to be in retail sales. I taught comedy traffic school in California. That's for people who get their first tickets. We talked about what happened, and I was allowed to bring my sense of humor into it. I would do things like, 'The 10 things you would never say to a policeman if they pull you over.'

Tribune: A sample?

Martin: One of them was, 'Yeah, I have to admit I was driving erratically, but you have to admit that's pretty good for someone who's had as much to drink as I have.'

Tribune: So what's a bad day at work for you?

Martin: You do get an irate player from time to time. Maybe they're upset because they don't realize the tax situation (income taxes are deducted from the winners' checks). That brings me down a little bit.

My boys are 19 and 20. When I get home at night they say, 'Did you have any big winners today? Do you have any interesting stories?' We live through our kids, but I kind of live through our winners. I live through their dreams a little bit.

- Peter Korn