By PERRY CHIARAMONTE in Albany and BOB FREDERICKS in New York
He didn't think Lady Luck was on his side -- and now he's out millions.
A hapless state information-technology worker who usually joined his office lottery pool took a pass last week -- only to learn that seven positive-thinking pals nailed a whopping $319 million Mega Millions jackpot, said a deli owner who knows the winners.
"The word is that when they were going around the office asking who wanted in on the pool, one guy said no, that he wasn't feeling lucky," said Jill Cook, who with husband Tom owns Cook's Deli in Albany, where the winners are lunchtime regulars.
"They asked him twice. They said, 'Are you sure?' and he said yeah, he was going to pass this time. I feel horrible for him," Jill said.
The number of players in the pool varied from week to week, she said, and the identity of the mystery loser -- who could have won a $16 million after-tax share under the lottery's lump-sum option -- was as elusive as those of the big winners, who sources say worked in IT for the state Homes and Community Renewal agency.
Cook said the geek squad came in for lunch daily -- but haven't been seen since beating the one-in-176-million odds in Friday's drawing. Customers who know the winners told her they weren't planning to return to their jobs -- except to pass along unfinished business to colleagues.
Jim Plastiras, an agency spokesman, confirmed the workers did not come to work Monday but he couldn't say if they showed up yesterday. They had not formally resigned their positions, he added.
The winning workers remained out of the public eye yesterday, but one surfaced long enough to stake a claim to the prize, state lottery officials said yesterday.
"The ticket has been claimed, and once we verify it we'll choose a date, place and time for a check presentation," lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Hapeman said. The claimant, whom she would not identify by name or gender, arranged to come to lottery headquarters Monday night after hours, Hapeman said.
Lottery officials said that once they verify the ticket and how many pool members are claiming a slice of the pie, a news conference will be scheduled, probably this week.
Most likely, Hapeman said, the winners are spending time huddling with legal and financial wizards to plan how to handle the bundles of cash headed their way.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people coming in winners do it that way these days, and $319 million is an unimaginable amount of money," Hapeman said.
"Most want a plan before the money enters their hands."
Meanwhile, at Coulson's News Center, where the winning ticket was sold, owner Steve Hutchins got a standard $10,000 bonus for selling the winning number combination: 22, 24, 31, 52 and 54, with 4 as the Mega Ball. "It's pretty amazing," he said.
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