SCHENECTADY, NY -- When Mike Barth reached for a Snickers bar as he stood at the counter to buy a Mega Millions lottery ticket, someone reached over his shoulder and bought the next ticket.
"I thought about saying something but decided to just let it slide," Barth said about the Quick Pick ticket sold right before the one he purchased at 2:40 p.m. last Friday.
"I bought the next ticket -- the winning ticket!"
So the "fickle finger of fate," as he called it today, turned Barth, who also purchased a Quick Pick ticket where the computer randomly chooses numbers, and his six fellow state IT workers into millionaires when they won the $319 million Mega Millions jackpot on Friday night.
The jackpot was the fifth-largest in the multistate game’s history.
The "Albany Seven" made their first public appearance at a news conference this morning holding oversized posters of the winning ticket. The co-workers traded in those cards for seven oversized checks, each bearing their name, as family and friends applauded.
The winners then gathered around a large cake that resembled the winning ticket for a photo.
"We’ve been playing the big jackpots for years," recalled Barth, who was in Buffalo over the weekend and thought his co-workers were calling him because the computer servers were down in the office.
Hilton said he hid the winning ticket in two plastic bags and a bucket of bird feed inside his basement for the weekend.
Each member usually puts in $2 each and they play when jackpots surpass the $100 million mark. They will each get a lump sum of $28.9 million before taxes, or $19.1 million, after taxes.
The group said there were some co-workers who had played in the past who chose not to play this time.
None of them said they are ready to retire at this point.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," said Hilton.
Mahar said she found out the group had won soon after the drawing.
"I was up late reading and wanted to catch the numbers [on TV] but missed them," she said. "I was dialing up the lottery website on my phone when the numbers scrolled across the [TV] screen. I was dumbfounded."
Mahar said she "checked it, and rechecked it and rechecked it" while holding a photocopy of the winning ticket.
Peck, known as the office prankster, thought his co-workers were playing a joke on him when he started getting one phone call after another Saturday morning.
But then as he thought more about it he realized he "didn't think anyone would be calling that early on a Saturday just to play a joke on me."
Barth said he's going to use the money for new tires and to pay for his son's college education "not based on where he can go, but where he wants to go."
Hilton said he "just wants to fly somewhere in first class."
Kutey added, "My wife and I are going to every Disney park there is."