The Luckiest Geek in China

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The Luckiest Geek in China
An engineer in Nanjing logs onto and emerges with the grand prize of $1 million
By ISABELLA NG Nanjing Yes, the world is becoming borderless. And yes, the Internet exists in a place where national boundaries are all but meaningless. Yet still, it takes some getting used to the idea that a mainland Chinese engineer can suddenly score a cool $1 million in a cyberjackpot. Not that Wang Xun himself is all that fazed. For one thing, he's a dedicated Internet junkie. For four weeks he had been visiting from his squalid home in the city of Nanjing, looking for tips to apply to his own financial-advisory website. While he was at it, he decided to download the site's slot machine and wheel it for fun and fortune.

After more than 10 tries, Wang, 23, came up a winner. Not your basic here's your 10%-off-coupon or your free-DVD kind of winner. But the big enchilada, the guy who takes home the million bucks. Not bad for a fellow who earns $4,500 a year. It's simply magic, says Wang. The day before, I had told my girlfriend that I wanted to earn my 1 million renminbi (about $120,000) before turning 30, gushes Wang. The dream came true seven years early!

So now what? Wang already received $510,000 of his prize but it got whittled down to $321,000 after the U.S. government took its 37% tax bite. That ain't chicken feed in a city where annual per-capita income averages $1,200. This is 71 years of my annual income, says Wang.

The boyish engineer might want to share some with his parents, who gave him his first computer four years ago when he entered one of Nanjing's top universities. Wang logged onto the Net for the first time in 1996 when the city's first Internet service provider debuted. He soon got hooked. He went into business part-time and started designing websites and banner advertisements for online clients. He also created his own website, Moneymaker. com, offering tips on how to make it rich. Somehow his research took him to, a U.S.-based gaming website that was launched in April. By playing the slot machine, he won a few small prizes-10 checks worth $65 in total. And then magic struck-the online slot machine displayed three identical icons, each saying PAY MY BILLS. A window popped up announcing Wang as the grand-prize winner. He stared at the screen with his mouth agape. I could feel my heart pounding, says Wang. Within four hours, staffers, who seemed to be as surprised as he was, sent him a congratulatory e-mail. You know this is truly global, says Victor Carlson, the online gaming company's senior vice president. Just moments earlier, someone from the American state of Utah had won a DVD at the site. Gushes Carlson:What a difference 10 seconds make!

China has no problem allowing its citizens to rake in such riches. The American side initially wasn't so confident. eventually had to consult the U.S. State Department for assurances that it could grant such a prize to a mainland Chinese citizen without legal hassles. Wang's parents and friends flipped, naturally. And he was immediately pursued by Chinese reporters who got his phone number through contacts in the local police department.

So you want to be a Chinese millionaire? The first thing you do, if you're Wang Xun, is buy a car and get a U.S.-dollar credit card for online purchases. Wang's ultimate goal is to travel to the U.S. to study business management. I have some knowledge about the Internet, he says. Now it's time to get into the real business world. Watching Wang study the map of America he has pinned to his bedroom wall, you feel somehow that winning the jackpot was just the beginning.