Abbigail Bugenske, 22, had all but forgotten about her long-shot bid to become Ohio’s next millionaire.
As the clock inched toward 7.29 pm on Wednesday night, the state was preparing to announce the winner of its first lottery drawing for vaccinated Ohioans live on television. Bugenske was driving from Cincinnati to her parents’ house near Cleveland when she got a call that left her in hysterics. The governor was on the line. She had just won $1 million.
“I thought it was a prank call initially,” said Bugenske, who soon saw an explosion of messages on her phone that confirmed the news. She walked into her parents’ house in disbelief.
“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong,” she recalled Thursday. “I started yelling that I won a million dollars and I was going to be a millionaire.”
Bugenske, who graduated from college last year and recently moved to the Cincinnati area to take a job as an engineer, won the money through Ohio’s new lottery offering $1 million to people who have gotten at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. The idea, which has drawn both enthusiasm and scrutiny, is gaining traction across the country, as states such as Colorado, Maryland and Oregon offer similar incentives in an effort to boost waning vaccinations.
One criticism of such programs is that they may do little to change the minds of people who are against the vaccines. Bugenske, for example, said she got her shot as soon as she became eligible, before the lottery was announced, and later entered her name for the drawing. (Ohio residents who have gotten at least one shot are eligible to enter the lottery, no matter when they got vaccinated.)
“I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine,” she said. “If winning a million dollars isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be.”
More than 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win $1 million in the lottery, and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks. The lottery also offers a full-ride scholarship to college for children ages 12 to 17.
Joseph Costello, a 14-year-old from Englewood, near Dayton, won the first scholarship out of more than 104,000 entries.