RALEIGH – Michael Pepper of Statesville plans to use the $1 million prize he won playing Powerball to pay off his auto loans and save for the future. Pepper learned of his big win when he scanned his ticket at the Kangaroo Express on Safreit Road in Statesville, where he purchased the lucky ticket.

“When I walked in the clerk told me that someone from the store had matched all five numbers,” Pepper said. “I handed her my ticket and it said I had to claim it at the lottery office. I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I took the ticket straight back to the house, cried, told my wife and put the ticket away.”

Pepper also plans to use a portion of his winnings from the Dec. 1 drawing, worth $680,000 after taxes were withheld, to pay off his wife’s student loans.

“I appreciate what the lottery does for education and I think about it a lot,” Pepper said as he collected his prize. “It means a lot that when people by tickets, someone down the street could get an education from it.”

Pepper is the 15th player in North Carolina to win $1 million playing Powerball since the game re-launched in January. Before the change, players who matched all five white balls would win a $200,000 prize.

Ticket sales for games such as Powerball have enabled the lottery to raise more than $2.58 billion for education initiatives statewide. Since the lottery began through June 30, 2012, Iredell County education programs received more than $36.4 million in lottery funds. By law, those funds pay for teachers’ salaries in grades K-3, school construction, prekindergarten programs for at-risk four-year-olds, and need-based college scholarships and financial aid.