CLEARWATER — On a recent Sunday afternoon, Hoyt Hamilton thought he was walking out of Publix with a winning Florida Lottery ticket along with the hot dog buns he picked up for lunch.
When the customer service clerk scanned Hamilton’s Powerball ticket on April 18, the machine spit out a note saying he had to go to a regional office to collect winnings that were more than $600.
Hamilton, 61, a Clearwater city council member, left the store at Sunset Point and Belcher roads and figured he’d check the Powerball numbers online when he got home. But when he sat down with his tablet, he realized the clerk forgot to hand him back the original ticket.
“It was like, ‘Get you’re a-- back to Publix,’” Hamilton said. “When I got there I asked the clerk ‘Have you emptied your garbage yet?’ and when she said no, they hadn’t, I said ‘I need to go through your garbage.’”
Hamilton, the clerk and another employee who overheard dug through the garbage for about 10 minutes searching for the winning ticket.
His ticket was easy to spot because the first line had the numbers Hamilton always plays whenever he thinks to try the Lotto — birthdays of family and the date of his anniversary with his wife, Sheryl.
Back at his car, relieved, Hamilton pulled up Flalottery.com on his phone. The first line, his go-to numbers, had no matches.
Then he scanned the second line, the quick pick numbers: First number, 10, a match. Second number, 21, a match. Third number, 26, a match. Fourth number, 41, a match. Fifth number, 49, a match. Sixth number, 25, off by two.
Hamilton looked at the online chart to see what five out of six matches meant: $1 million.
“I look at it and I go, ‘Holy you-know-what,’” Hamilton said. “I was a little bit in shock.”
Sheryl Hamilton remembers her husband walking through their front door holding up the ticket in his hand.
“This is worth $1 million,” he told her.
A few days earlier, as they were talking about Christmas, Sheryl Hamilton had said she wanted to give their four grandchildren an experience this year, like a Disney cruise to Cozumel. They had enough toys.
“We’re doing the Disney cruise!” Sheryl Hamilton remembers shouting back at him.
Hamilton considers himself lucky in life. But over the years of playing the Lotto here and there, he’d never won anything more than a few hundred dollars.
“I’m a very fortunate person,” he said. “I’ve got a great family, we’ve got a great business, I’ve got a great group of friends. I’m truly blessed.”
His family roots stretch back in Clearwater more than 100 years. He’s spent nearly his entire career operating the Palm Pavilion inn and restaurant his family has owned since 1964, which is a landmark on Clearwater Beach.
He first ran for city council in 2001 to fill a vacant seat, was re-elected in 2002 and won a third term in 2005 — his first years in office covering the city’s massive redevelopment of Clearwater Beach into a resort destination.
He resigned his seat in 2006 to move to Atlanta for four years while his two sons were studying at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. After returning to his hometown, Hamilton was elected again in 2014 and 2018. He now has 10 months remaining before he is term-limited out.
It’s a good time to win the Powerball.
After the 24 percent the Florida Lottery took off the top for federal income tax, Hamilton picked up his check on May 5 from the Lottery’s Tampa office for $740,000. He calculated that he will pay $140,000 in taxes next year on his winnings.
The couple plans to put $50,000 in a college fund for each of their four grandchildren, all now under the age of 8. The remaining $540,000 has been put in an investment fund for retirement and travel.
“I’m not going to buy a Bentley or anything like that,” Hamilton said. “I’m sticking with what I’ve got and we’ll do some traveling when I’m no longer on the council in 10 months.”
The couple told their two adult sons and close friends within days of their good luck. But even now, it’s still sinking in.
“The funniest part to me was that my million dollars were sitting in a trash can for two hours,” Hamilton said.