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Lottery winner splits $3 million with sister

Always look out for your little sister.

Even -- or especially -- when you've just won $3 million in the lottery.

That's the approach Lia Gentile took after winning the top prize in the New York Lottery's "Money, Money, Money" game with a ticket she purchased last month in a B-Kwik Mart on Seneca Street.

Gentile, 44, of Buffalo, will keep half the jackpot.

An equal $1.5 million share is going to her sister, Franca Cavitt, who is a year younger and lives in Crescent, Pa., near Pittsburgh, with her husband and three daughters.

"I wouldn't dream of keeping all this money for myself," Gentile, who stays home to care for her parents, told lottery officials. "Franca deserves to share in my good fortune."

But before the jackpot got divvied up, Gentile had to convince Cavitt that she really won.

"I didn't believe her," Cavitt said Monday at the news conference in Boulevard Mall, Amherst. "She said: 'It's true. It's true.' I said: 'It's not. It's not.' Then she put my mom on the phone, and I kind of believed my mom."

For the record, a $10 lottery card won back Gentile's initial investment, which she used to buy another ticket. The second time, she won the $3 million prize.

Each sister will receive $75,000 a year -- or $51,112 after taxes -- for the next 20 years.

Gentile, who did not attend the news conference, plans to pay a few bills and save most of the money, Cavitt said.

Cavitt will use her $1.5 million for savings, to cover college expenses for her three daughters -- ages 8, 11 and 13 -- and for family vacations to Hawaii and Disney World.

But Cavitt, a customer service representative at a Super Kmart Center, plans to continue working. So does her husband, Gerald, who juggles full-time jobs at two hotels and works seven days a week.

"We want to keep moving," Franca Cavitt said. "We don't want to just lay around. Laying around is when you get in trouble."

But Gerald Cavitt expects to reduce his work schedule to 50-60 hours a week and to spend more time with his family.

The Cavitts appeared comfortable, grateful and even a bit amused while answering reporters' questions Monday.

"It's just going to make things easier for us," Gerald Cavitt said. "But we're still going to be basically the same people."

Gentile chose not to attend the news conference because "she's very shy," Franca Cavitt said.

And a very generous big sister.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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