A 71-year-old Medford man was presented with a check from the New York Lottery’s Yolanda Vega today after winning a top prize of at least $5 million playing the Set for Life instant game.
Neal Damato is a retired Suffolk County public safety supervisor and U.S. Army veteran and Army National Guardsman.
He works part-time as a bus driver.
Damato’s story begins with a hankering for a hamburger and ends with a lucky can of soup, according to an account provided by the New York Lottery:
“I was not working that day and told my wife that I wanted to go out for a burger for lunch,” explained Damato, a father of three and grandfather of seven. “After that, we did a couple of errands and my wife told me she wanted to go to Kohl’s [in Shirley]. I sat in the car like I always do feeling really stuffed from the burger. I decided to head over to the Stop and Shop for a can of soup for dinner because that’s all I had room for.”
Damato said his life changed forever before he ever made it back to the car.
“I put $20 in the vending machine and got two of the same [Set For Life] tickets. I scratched the first ticket outside the store and stood there in disbelief thinking, ‘Something’s not right here.’ I double- and triple-checked and then went looking for my wife who was still in Kohl’s.”
Damato has chosen to receive his prize as a one-time lump-sum payment, netting him $2,624,617 after required withholdings.
Damato said he planned to use his windfall to plan a Hawaiian vacation with his wife to celebrate the pair’s 50th wedding anniversary next month.
“I’m trying to coax her into adding Tahiti to the itinerary, but I have a little more convincing to do.”
Damato’s wife Carol, 68, said the couple is on the same page about prioritizing their prize money. “We both want to help our kids with their college bills and mortgages and pay off other bills the best we can.”
“One thing is certain,” said Damato about that can of soup he decided to buy at the last minute. “No one will ever open that can.
“I want them to bury me with that lucky can of chicken noodle.”
Photo: Neal Damato with the New York Lottery’s Yolanda Vega Wednesday. (courtesy)