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Associated Press, Published September 30 2009

SD rancher uses lottery winnings to buy more than 23 square miles of ranch land

PIERRE, S.D. - Neal Wanless, a young South Dakota rancher who won a $232.1 million Powerball prize four months ago, apparently is pursuing his dream of riding his horse and tending cattle on a spread a bit bigger than his 320-acre family ranch.

Wanless, who took the prize in an $88.5 million lump sum after taxes, has bought more than 23 square miles of western South Dakota for roughly $9.9 million, according to three deeds recorded in Butte County.

When Wanless claimed his lottery winnings June 5, he said he wanted to continue doing what he had been doing on the family ranch 11 miles east of Mission in impoverished Todd County in south-central South Dakota.

A written statement from the South Dakota Lottery said Wanless, who is single, had dreamed of having a little larger ranch.

While riding his horse, Eleanor, the 23-year-old rancher told the horse, "It'd be nice if we could go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own," according to the June statement.

After Wanless won the Powerball prize from the May 27 drawing, he declined to answer questions but said he would talk later. His lawyer, Bill Van Camp of Pierre, said Wanless has not responded to several interview requests from the media.

Two days before Wanless claimed his lottery winnings, Van Camp filed articles of organization with the secretary of state's office to set up NW Ranches LLC for Wanless.

Deeds recorded in Butte County on July 15, July 30 and Sept. 1 show that NW Ranches bought nearly 15,000 acres, or about 23.4 square miles.

Nearly all the land is in southeastern Butte County east of Vale, with a small portion across the line in Meade County, according to Butte County Register of Deeds Paula Walker.

Transfer fees totaled $9,872 in Butte County. At a fee of 50 cents for each $500 in sale price, that indicates the land was purchased for nearly $9.9 million, Walker said.

Deeds are recorded as a public notice that a sale has taken place and as a safeguard in case something happens to the original deed.

Heather Collins, deputy equalization director in Butte County, said the Wanless purchases include soil types that indicate a mix of grassland and cropland. The price paid falls in a fairly typical range for the county, she said.

"It's not out of the ordinary," Collins said.

Greg Smeenk, a Rapid City real estate broker who handles ranch sales, said he was not involved in the Wanless sales but that word of the sales has spread among people in the real estate business. Smeenk said he is pleased Wanless apparently will continue ranching.

"More power to him," Smeenk said. "I'm glad to see somebody like that win it. He's doing what he wants to do. It's a good thing."

Wanless' family previously bought and sold scrap metal to make it through tough economic times in Todd County, an area of rolling green pastures, grazing cattle, fields of crops - and some of the deepest poverty in the nation.

The jackpot was one of the biggest undivided jackpots in U.S. lottery history. Wanless bought $15 worth of tickets to the 30-state drawing at a convenience store in Winner during a trip to buy livestock feed.

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