Neal Wanless, South Dakota’s $232 million man

Neal Wanless, of rural Mission, S.D., poses Friday with his Powerball jackpot check. (Photo courtesy of South Dakota Lottery)

Yesterday, Neal Wanless, a 23-year-old, down-on-his-luck rancher from rural (and I mean rural) Mission, S.D., barely had a footprint in cyberspace.

Today, when it was announced that he was the winner of a $232.1 million Powerball jackpot, his name shot around the globe, via the Internet, like a speeding bullet.

Here’s the news release about Wanless from the South Dakota Lottery:

Rural Mission Man Wins 9th Largest Powerball Jackpot

Pierre, S.D. – Neal Wanless of rural Mission today claimed the 9th largest Powerball jackpot won in the history of the multi-state lottery game.

The 23-year-old rancher appeared with South Dakota Lottery officials at an award ceremony in Pierre after claiming the $232.1 million he won in the May 27 drawing.  

Wanless chose to receive the jackpot as a one-time cash prize of $118,005,530.  After federal tax withholding, he will receive a prize payment $88,504,147, not including another $100 he won on the same ticket.

The jackpot- winning numbers represent the day and month of family members’ birthdays. The lucky combination was the fourth of five plays on a $5 ticket.

The winning ticket was purchased at the Ampride store in Winner.

Wanless and his family stop at the store when they make the 35-mile trip to Winner to buy feed.  The store will receive a $50,000 bonus for selling the lucky ticket.

On the night of Wednesday, May 27, Neal joked with his parents, Arlen and Nancy, about his Powerball tickets and needing to drive to Pierre the next day "to deposit a big check". He didn’t discover until the next morning that the whimsical remark would prove foretelling.

Neal checked the Lottery’s Web site for the winning numbers on Thursday morning.  He first checked the Powerball number, knew it matched a play on the ticket, and checked the white ball numbers.  Then he sat and stared at the computer screen.  "I was in shock," he said.  "I don’t remember what I said."  His dad remembers.  "He whispered real quiet ‘we won,’" Arlen said.

The rest of that day is somewhat of a blur for the family.  They told a few friends and family, and contacted the Lottery to figure out what needed to be done next.  "It’s just something you don’t believe could happen to you," Nancy said.

The excitement of winning affected them differently that first night.

"I slept just fine," Neal said.  "We didn’t," Arlen replied, as he and Nancy laughed. They all agree that the experience has been both fun and a bit nerve-racking.

Since then, Neal has kept busy working on the family ranch, some 11 miles east of Mission.  A tractor needed to be picked up from the shop, a baler fixed, and other preparations made to put up hay in coming days.

That’s just what Neal intends to continue doing.  Ranching, he says, is something he’s always dreamed of doing.  "I just want to go home and ranch and ride horse and check cows."  

But, he says he’s also dreamed of doing it on a little bigger ranch.

While out riding his horse, Eleanor, recently he’d thought to himself, and remarked to Eleanor, that "It’d be nice if we could go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own." 

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.


  1. Cyndi Smith
    Cyndi Smith 21 June, 2011, 18:14

    Good for you Neal, make the most of it and listen to the Lord, not people for guidance; they will come out of the wordwork 🙂

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  2. Greg
    Greg 21 June, 2011, 18:15

    Ironic, that the winner purchased his ticket in Winner, SD. As for buying a big ranch, the county may be his should he so desire. This is more money than most of us can imagine anywhere, but in Mission, SD…wow!

    Reply this comment
  3. Ann
    Ann 21 June, 2011, 18:15

    Dear Neal,

    I just heard and read about you this morning, I’m happy for you and your family. I also read that you thank The Lord, you will be helping your family, your community and that you are single. Good for you. Please, ask God for His wisdom and knowledge in all that you do(in case you haven’t), especially for the right young lady to marry(prospects will come like crazy). In case people begin to change on you, just remember, God will always be your friend and guide you in the right way- if you TRUST HIM and LET HIM. God will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong(I believe you are) and hold to Gods unchanging hand. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. You are a good son to help your parents. With Gods help, I know you will keep a level head. I’ll be praying for you.

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  4. Sherry
    Sherry 21 June, 2011, 18:15

    Dear Neal congradulations on your big big…always trust in the lord…I heard what you said on the news that you are going to help your family and friends.. I think that is great…At least your not greedy and selfish like most of my family…I’m dyeing and they still won’t help… oh well that’s beside the point… i wish you all the best in the world…good luck…..sherry

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  5. Paula Richmond
    Paula Richmond 21 June, 2011, 18:16

    Dear Neal,
    Congratulations on the much needed cash, the way it sounds! This economy is tough all around. I am not sure if you remember me, but I was the chapparone and my son Jordon went with you to Australia six years ago this summer to run on the US cross country team. I just wanted to say that we wish the best for you. I have read a few things about you and your wishes to continue ranching with your family and favorite horse. Go for it and stay the strong person you are. You were a detirmined person back then when you were running and I am sure you are now. Best of luck!! Paula and Jordon Richmond

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  6. Melissa WIilson
    Melissa WIilson 21 June, 2011, 18:17

    I picked up a magazine at work the other day and read about Neal. I don’t watch tv much and so I had not heard about Neal yet. I read what he wrote and I thought FINALLY..someone who didn’t say things like ” I am going to go to Italy” or ” I am going to go buy a ..”fill in the blank here”…NOpe, he said exactly what my husband and I have said we would do, take care of our debt and help others !! YEAH NEAL !!! I know that money changes people SOMETIMES…I don’t think it will change a person who has already said he wants to help others…he thought of others first…not cars….not vacations…etc…etc. I saw one smart aleck comment on a blog saying :He will probably go out and buy himself a million more cowboy hats” Wow, can’t folks just be happy for him?? I Know I am and I am very proud of a 23 year old who is so unselfish !! You go Neal, your town and your family should be proud, they raised you right !!!

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  7. Sarah
    Sarah 21 June, 2011, 18:18

    Hi Neal,

    Congratulation to you and your family. I wish you well and remember to always be happy and trust God as well as yourself. Good luck to you and your family. Former resident of Wanbless, So. Dakota.

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