‘Unbelievable:’ After Multiple Tries, FanDuel Finds Its Millionaire In Eastern Iowa

Written By Russ Mitchell on April 16, 2021 - Last Updated on April 21, 2021
fanduel million dollar winner

If you happen to be in the mood to give away $1 million, you should know:

It’s not as easy as you might think.

That’s what the team at FanDuel learned when they tried to hand out their grand prize in the March Million Sweepstakes. FanDuel automatically entered customers who placed an NCAA Tournament bet with the sportsbook.

Kevin Hennessy, from FanDuel’s marketing department, gets the honors.

“Usually, it’s a quick phone call,” he said. “We’ve done this once or twice.”

The sportsbook selected a pair of $1 million winners in 2021 because the pandemic claimed the 2020 version of March Madness. A Virginia resident claimed one prize midway through the tournament.

Brady Cartee, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer from eastern Iowa, was in line for the second million. FanDuel selected Cartee randomly on April 5 — the day of the national championship game.

FanDuel needed about 48 hours to verify Cartee’s eligibility. Hennessy placed his first call  on April 7:

“I don’t call up and say ‘You’re a millionaire,’ if I’m leaving a message or if I’m sending a text message. We say something simple: ‘We have some exciting news about your account. Please just give us a call.’ Normally, people will call back maybe with two days lag or something along those lines.”

Area codes and voicemail vetos vex FanDuel

Hawkeye center Luka Garza finished third in the Big Ten Conference for blocked shots, but Cartee might lead the state in blocked sweepstakes calls.

Hennessy called from the 914 area code, but Cartee didn’t recognize the number. His voicemail didn’t accept messages, either. “I’ve personally never gotten my number blocked,” Hennessy said. “Brady actually blocked my number.”

And Cartee blocked the number almost immediately:

“On our end, we don’t actually know that we’re blocked, so we’re still texting. And I called at different times throughout the day. We understand people are working.”

Calls at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. or 7 p.m. didn’t matter. The Iowan didn’t respond to emails or messages through the FanDuel app, either. A full week passed since Baylor cut down the nets and Iowa’s newest millionaire (before taxes) was unaware of his windfall.

Hennessy was left with one last option, and thankfully, home addresses are part of the sportsbook registration process.

Send in FanDuel’s British agent

Liam Butler, FanDuel’s northeast regional manager, is in the process of moving to the US region that more closely fits his title. But, for now, he remains in Iowa after recently serving as GM for the sportsbook at Diamond Jo Worth Casino in Northwood. The city is near the Iowa-Minnesota border.

“The marketing team reached out with me being close. I had to jump at the opportunity, because it’s not every day you’re going to be able to tell somebody ‘You’ve won a million dollars.’ And that’s a fun part of the job.”

Cartee and Butler live more than four hours apart, so Butler had an overnight bag packed before leaving for his first attempt Tuesday afternoon. His phone had an Iowa area code, so a text to Cartee had a chance to go through.

“Unfortunately, he wasn’t in at the time. I knew he could be working, so I came back around 6-6:30 p.m. and knocked on the door. There he was, ready to go. I think he was cooking dinner. He didn’t quite believe what I was telling him. You know, a random British guy knocks on your door and tells you that you’ve won a million dollars. I still think he was a little bit skeptical.”

Cartee immediately went to his family and said, “All right, let’s find out if this is real or not.”

“I immediately called my dad and explained everything to him, like, ‘Man, they’re going really out of their way if they’re trying to kind of pull a fast one on me.’ So it was hard not to get my hopes up. Obviously they were legit. And they seemed very legit when they were there. So it’s hard not to believe them.”

Who wants to find a millionaire?

The FanDuel prize didn’t quite feel real for the 23-year-old until Cartee, some family members, Hennessy and Butler all got together for a Zoom conference Thursday night.

The sweepstakes winner said:

“I still wasn’t sure exactly how everything was going to go down. But it was, it was awesome. You know, all the guys from FanDuel were just super excited. For me, it was unbelievable.”

Butler said:

“I’ve been in the gambling industry for around seven years. And this was definitely a unique one, that’s for sure. He was totally unaware. I don’t think he remembered placing the bets. And it was just really, really exciting to be a part of it.”

Cartee placed his faith in Texas Tech for the bet that put him in the sweepstakes mix. Hennessy feels the mechanical engineer has a “good head on his shoulders” and that FanDuel was thrilled to give him life-changing money.

During the Zoom meeting, Cartee called up his account, which was at zero. Then he refreshed to see the six-figure amount after taxes.

“I’m definitely going to be as smart as I can with it. But I’ll have to plan a trip or two to somewhere I haven’t been — go out to Vegas or Nashville, or somewhere I haven’t been yet and have some fun with it.”

Cartee said it may take a few years to adjust to a new lifestyle. Champagne wasn’t his first drink after the win:

“It was definitely Busch Light. I’m not changing that,” he said.

Photo by March Million Sweepstakes
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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