What 10 Tampa Bay residents would do if they won the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot

Tuesday's Mega Millions draw is the highest it's ever been. Some residents are starting to plan what they'd do if they won, with one resident saying he'd make it rain $1 bills in downtown Tampa.
Published October 22
Updated October 22

It's mega all right.

The Mega Millions jackpot has officially reached a record-high $1.6 billion and Tampa Bay area residents are beginning to dream.

A single winner would receive around $905 million before taxes, but that number could go up after Tuesday evening's lottery pick.

Carole Gentry, the communications director for Mega Millions, said people have two options when they go to pick up their winnings. They can either take the money in a lump sum or get annual payments for 29 years.

"The majority of people take the lump sum," Gentry said. "And only six states offer an anonymous option. Most states have a certain amount of publicity after someone wins the lottery."

Florida is not one of the states that offers an anonymous pickup. But Gentry assures anyone playing that if they act smart after they win, they can safely receive a life-changing amount of money.

"What we tell people is that if they win, they should start by taking a deep breath," Gentry said. "Then they should sign the ticket and put it in a safe place. They should get some sound financial and legal advice from a trusted source and then they can come in."

But it's still a burning question, especially as everyone rushes into work Tuesday morning. What would you do with nearly a billion dollars?

We asked folks around Tampa Bay how they would spend their newfound fortune. This is what they said.

AJ Desimone, 27: Make it rain money on downtown Tampa.

A smirk planted firmly on his face, Desimone, a salesman in downtown Tampa's Sykes building, knows exactly what he'll do if he wins the Mega Millions jackpot.

“At work, we talk about this all the time when we throw in the pool,” he said. “I'd take this month’s commission check and some other money and turn it into $1 bills. Then I’d rent a helicopter -- and this sounds crazy -- but I’d have the helicopter pull up to my work’s window and I would drop all of the bills into the city of Tampa, fluttering down."

What next?

"I’d go and invest the rest, I guess," he said. "But that’s not as cool.”

Darlene Piner, 58: Invest in her children and grandchildren, but would go back to work.

On break from her job as a security guard and smoking a cigarette, Piner said she wouldn’t know what to do with a billion dollars.

“I lived in a small town with my mom, dad and six siblings. We learned to live a simple life,” Piner said. “So, I don’t know what I’d do with it. Probably take care of my kids. Give them something to live on.”

Piner has six children and seven grandchildren. She said she would invest the money for them and help them pay off college or buy a home. But Piner said she doesn’t think she’d leave her security job in downtown St Petersburg even after getting a billion dollars.

“No, I couldn’t see quitting here,” Piner said. “If I did that, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d probably go stir crazy.”

Jose Ramirez, 51: Buy an island -- maybe a country?

Ramirez walks with a coworker from the University of Tampa's Army program every morning around downtown Tampa.

Even if he were to win Tuesday's Mega Millions draw, you could find him doing the same Wednesday morning. Even Thursday, Friday and next month, too.

In seven months, though, there's no chance.

“If I won that billion dollars, I’d swear I’d work for six months without telling anybody. I wouldn’t let my name leak out at all," he said. "Then I’d go out and try to buy a country. You could literally buy your own island somewhere -- it wouldn’t be hard to find something. Me and the wife would escape. We’d take care of the family and everything, then go and live.

"Work would not be in my language anymore if that happens.”

Matt Dirks, 50: Donate, donate, donate.

Enjoying one of the first cool Florida fall mornings, Dirks sat outside the Kahwa Coffee shop in downtown St. Petersburg sipping some java and appreciating the breeze before heading to work.

When asked, Dirks smiled and replied that he’d continue doing what he’s been doing, only bigger and better. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to provide donations for causes I support, and take care of my family,” Dirks said. “So I’d continue doing that. I’d give to Doctors Without Borders, Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa and help fund Get Out the Vote efforts.”

Dirks said he’d also invest in his children and make sure they had money for the future.

Elizabeth Meyers, 52: Travel, travel, travel.

There are a lot of things Meyers could do with $1 billion. More specifically, there are a lot places she could go.

"Europe, Australia, there are so many countries I want to go to see. I went to Paris when I was 19 and I’m dying to go back. Italy, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, I want to see so much.”

Though traveling's important to Meyers, a paralegal, she says it wouldn't be the first thing she does.

"I’d pay off my house first thing and then buy a beach house," she said. "Then I'd pay off the rest of my debt, give money to my family and friends. After all of that, I’d travel."

Kim Knight, 47: Invest in dogs.

Knight wrangles with her puppy Finley while eating breakfast outside the Craft Kafe in downtown St. Petersburg. He’s a rambunctious recent adoption who wants to say hello to everyone who passes by.

“What would I do with a billion dollars? That’s so much money. I know I’d invest it in animals, dogs definitely; they don’t have any voice.”

Knight said she’d also invest in what you would expect: family, debt and health. But her biggest dream would be to put money down on natural foster-based programs for dogs. She would put the money toward places that let the dogs roam free as opposed to kennels.

“I think there’s so much more we can do for them,” Knight said. “We just adopted Fin but there’s so many dogs in need.”

Autumn Bell, 23: Headed to the big screen.

Bell says she doesn't quite have the financial backing to up and move to Los Angeles.

If she wins Tuesday's draw, however, she'll be there in a heartbeat.

"I really want to work in the entertainment business," she said. "I would love to be an actress."

That'd come after she provides for her family, however, she says. If she doesn't win, however, she'll gladly continue to spend her days as a client recruiter in downtown Tampa.

Hamilton Davila, 45: Leave the money completely.

Davila said he wouldn’t take the money.

“No, I wouldn’t want that. It’d be too much trouble,” Davila said. “You’d have to change your whole life. Nah, man. I’m fine working the way I’ve been.”

Davila hangs off buildings for a living. He pressure-washes and cleans the top floors of high-rises. He said he wouldn’t even consider doing something safer.

“It’s safe if you know what you’re doing,” Davila said.

Brad Cook, 33, and wife, Margret, 32: Kon'nichiwa, Japan!

Brad and Margret say they already live a happy life together, working at the architecture company they own together.

Winning Tuesday's Mega Million wouldn't change any of that. It'd just be a bonus.

"We would go straight to Japan, its been on our bucket list for a while," Brad said. "Probably a couple of times."

Upon their return, they'd slowly use the money to invest in their business, making sure it lasted them for life, Margret said.

Amanda Davis, 40: Take care of Mom ... then desolation

While waiting to cross a street to get to work in Downtown Tampa, it didn't take much thinking for Davis to decide what she'd do first if she were to win almost a billion dollars.

First would be moving her mom, who's in an assisted living facility, closer to her. Next would be paying off the house.

After that?

"I'd try to go somewhere desolate because I’d be pestered here," said Davis, a human resources professional. "I would leave this profession and do something my heart was in, too, but not retire. Wherever I go, it wouldn't be here."

Contact Josh Fiallo at [email protected] Follow @ByJoshFiallo.Contact Devin Rodriguez at [email protected] or follow @devlinspooks on Twitter.

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