Against all odds | Bleader

Friday, January 13, 2012

Against all odds

Posted By on 01.13.12 at 07:35 PM

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I go to 7-Eleven almost daily, and the register's typically crowded with people buying lottery tickets. I've never done so, and the one time I was tempted to—there was a pot so large I could have bought the Reader and given everybody raises—I was baffled.

This is a truly bizarre subculture. The official guide to the games begins: "WARNING! The following dances are designed solely for performance while in the grip of "Oh-my-gosh-I-just-won-the-Lottery" euphoria. Do not attempt otherwise." The instructions for each game are then given in the form of an Arthur Murray-type graphic. Odds are given below in a chart that I suspect makes people's eyes glaze over rather than absorb the fact that, e.g., the chances of winning the 200,000,000 Million Cash Spectacular instant game are 1 in 3.46 million. The site doesn't say "If you win"—it's "When you win." So I confess I wince inwardly when I see someone, to all appearances impoverished, avidly forking over the cash.

"Well, someone has to win" is what my mom always said when I gave her and my dad a hard time about their weekly lottery ticket purchase. According to David Bernstein, who wrote a wonderful profile of Mega Millions winner Alex Snelius for Chicago magazine, his $64 million jackpot came at odds of 175,711,583 to 1.

So, yes, the unlikeliest of things sometimes happen. Just this week Scott Anetsberger of Lombard won a million dollars for the second time in less than a decade. When I called the Illinois Lottery rep to ask the chances of that occurring, she laughed and said they didn't know—"That would take a lot of computing." (The Trib consulted a Loyola math professor for the purpose, but incredibly, though he explained a thing or two about statistics, the story never gets around to giving the actual odds.)

The reason I know the odds of winning the Cash Spectacular instant game? In December the mother of my coworker's girlfriend, Mollie, did just that. Roxanna Nye, a resident of downstate Tiskilwa (pop. 800), bought a ticket at Beck Oil, in Princeton, on December 3. According to the Illinois Lottery's press release,

After Roxanna bought her ticket, she went to her car as she always does to scratch her tickets and had to do a triple check because she couldn't believe it. She immediately called her husband, 'I was so excited and freaking out that he thought I crashed the car,' Nye said.

Dang, she couldn't do a dance.

I first learned about her win at a holiday party, where my coworker Kristen, beaming, told me about it. Roxanna hasn't had an easy life. She dropped out of school in her early teens to work in the family's bar, and for years she's managed the produce department of a grocery store, getting up at 3:30 AM to meet the supply trucks. She was so flabbergasted by her win that she asked Mollie to accept the traditional oversize cardboard check on her behalf.

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  • Kristen Kaza

At the press conference Mollie said, "Things aren't really gonna change. They'll just stay home and be happy with their dogs," a lab and "a crotchety old beagle." Pressed, she did add that when she'd talked to her mom about three hours after the win, Roxanna had said that she'd like a pair of leopard high heels and a shar-pei.

Those may have just been impulses, Mollie tells me by e-mail: "Her only true plan is to take an Amtrak vacation to the Grand Canyon with me, my sis, cousin & Kristen! She also bought a celebratory Vera Wang purse at Kohls for $25 :) and we dined on home-cooked shrimp and lobster for christmas eve!

"She is simply a happy, hard-working lady who has supported the family thru dads loooong recovery from a knee surgery, paid off our modest family house, and paid for me to go to college—amazing!"

Read more from Money Week:

"An awesome gesture of 'Fuck you, poor people,'" by Mike Sula

"Lessons I learn from Margin Call," by Ben Joravsky

"Five great songs about money," by Miles Raymer

"Obama in town this evening for the usual reason," by Steve Bogira

"'What happened to the U.S. employment miracle?'" by Deanna Isaacs

"The euro crisis? You bet it's important!" by Michael Miner

"Money: What do you want with it?" by Ben Sachs

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