In 2009, Neal Wanless was a young cowboy living on a ranch in Mission, S.D., in a county where around 48% of the population lives below the poverty line. When his family’s home was repossessed by the bank, he and his parents and brother moved to a camper; his father sold scrap metal to make ends meet. “We were struggling,” Mr. Wanless said.
Mr. Wanless, then 23, bought a lottery ticket at a local convenience store while getting gas. He won a $232.1 million Powerball prize, making him the winner of the largest lottery jackpot ever won in the state. With his winnings, he decided to buy his own ranch.
Now Mr. Wanless is putting the ranch—nearly 50,000 acres spanning rolling hills, grazing pastures and a river—on the market for $41.15 million. If it sold for anywhere close to that asking price, the property would be among the most expensive single ranches ever sold in South Dakota, said his listing agent, Robb Nelson of Hall and Hall.
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Mr. Wanless, 34, said he is selling because he and his new wife Jody Gilson Wanless are spending more time at her family’s cattle ranch in Canada’s British Columbia. They also recently purchased a house in Arizona, where they plan to spend the winters. “I like the South Dakota winters, but I don’t like the wind,” he said.
The property, known as Bismarck Ranch, is named for the trail that brought people from Bismarck, North Dakota to Deadwood during the days of the Black Hills gold rush. It includes about 42,000 acres deeded acres, about 4,000 acres of land leased for grazing from the Bureau of Land Management and about 1,600 acres leased from the state, Mr. Nelson said. It is home to 3,000 yearlings, 1,600 cow-calf pairs and about 1,000 wild horses.
Mr. Wanless said he leases most of the land out to local ranchers as well as the BLM, which runs its wild horses there, so only a small number of the animals are his own. He used to run his own cows, but when the couple started spending more time in Canada and Arizona, it became too difficult, he said. He and his staff provide all of the daily care for most of the cows and all of the wild horses on the ranch, including feeding them in the winter. Whitetail, mule deer and pronghorn antelope, wild turkey and grouse can also be spotted on the ranch.
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Over the years, Mr. Wanless has built four homes on the property, including two luxury homes for himself and his mother as well as two smaller residences for ranch hands and guests. He declined to provide an estimate of construction cost. Mr. Wanless’s house, built in Western style, is about 6,500 square feet and has five bedrooms, a large open-plan kitchen and living room with an elaborate stone fireplace, a game room with a billiards table and bar, a poker room and a screening room.
Mr. Wanless said he designed the place personally, finding ideas on the internet and picking out everything from the cabinetry and the furniture to the picture frames for the cowboy and western artwork on the walls. His extensive taxidermy collection, which includes moose, antelope and even a zebra, is also on display.
His mother, for whom he built another house at the ranch, has already moved on to a 100-acre property he bought for her.
Mr. Wanless never expected to live so well. When he found out he’d won the Powerball—his lucky numbers were his birthday, his brother’s birthday and his grandfather’s birthday—he sat on his parents’ sofa in shock as his dad ran outside “yelling and screaming,” he said.
The lottery’s administrators gave him a choice: take home the entire amount of his winnings over 30 years or take a lump sum of about $88.5 million right away. He took the lump sum.
Standing on a podium after accepting the check, he told the awaited media: “I would like to thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with his great fortune. I will not squander it.”
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He began to buy land, starting with a roughly 7,000-acre ranch about 50 miles north of Rapid City. Over the next few years, he added on parcel after parcel until he had close to 50,000 acres. At the time, he said that it would simply be nice to go for a longer ride than usual with his horse Eleanor on a ranch that was bigger than the one he grew up on.
He said he has also since set up a charitable foundation, and has donated to the local children’s hospital. He is also involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he said.
Mr. Wanless said he prefers to keep his life low-key, and he hasn’t ditched his Levi’s and cowboy boots for designer duds. He and his wife, who he met at a hunting convention in Las Vegas a few years ago, are both active on the competitive rodeo circuit. They hosted their wedding reception at the ranch last year.
Winning the lottery “just furthered my dream of being a rancher,” he said. “I could have retired and done really nothing and sat on my butt and enjoyed it. But I love it. Ranching is a hard life, but if you love what you’re doing it’s an easy life.”
Mr. Nelson, the agent, said the ranch is so valuable because of its sheer scale and the improvements Mr. Wanless has made. He pointed to other major deals in the area, including the $32.4 million sale of the 45,443-acre Triple U Ranch northwest of Fort Pierre, known for being the setting of parts of the 1990 movie “Dances with Wolves,” in 2015. That property was purchased by a company tied to media mogul and major American landowner Ted Turner.
Mr. Nelson said his firm is experiencing near record activity on all its listings amid the coronavirus pandemic. “The working ranch properties like this are no exception,” he said.