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de Vos: Odd odds get odder

Jon de Vos
The Friday Report
Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

I didn’t buy a Powerball because the odds are about the same as licking your elbow. It looks like there are at least three big winners but that leaves the rest of the nation more than two billion dollars poorer. How does that help make America great again? And worse, do you really think Lotto and Powerball are honest?

Despite 19 consecutive Powerball drawings without a grand prize winner, last October, the Multi-State Lottery Association nearly doubled the existing odds up to 292 million when they added ten new balls to the mix. Bigger prizes, they figured correctly, meant bigger sales. Hence the lines around the block.

The following boring analogy demonstrates those odds: take 292 million one-dollar bills. That’s two fully-stuffed semi-trucks for those who are counting. Start in Vancouver and lay them touching end-to-end across North America, until you get to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Keep them dry as you cross the Bay of Fundy.

Turn around and continue laying dollar bills all the way back to San Francisco. Tired? Just grab 700 bills out of the back and toss the keys to the parking valet at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Let him park the semi. Enjoy the Ghirardelli pillow mint.

Refreshed, bright and early, start laying out bills back east all the way to New York City, right out to the tip of Long Island. Remember, lay them carefully, end-to-end, touching. Wipe the brow, turn around, lay bills back to Los Angeles, then turn again and head for Key West.

Okay. You’ve laid out dollar bills all the way across North America four times. Now, retrace your steps. It’ll be easier this time, not stooping to lay down a bill every 6.14 inches. Stop anywhere along the way and pick up one bill.

That’s the odds of winning Powerball.

The winner chooses either a lump sum or 30 year payments. The lump sum is not the full amount but the “cash value” of the 1.6 billion, calculated to be around 960 million. This will be the amount split by the winners, just before the IRS takes its 40 percent. But wait, the odds get odder.

In November 2011, a lawyer representing a Belize-based trust showed up with a winning Iowa lotto ticket worth $16.5 million. But they ran off when state officials demanded to know more about the winner. Nobody claimed the prize. State investigators got curious and reviewed the convenience store surveillance video, determining that a guy named Eddie Tipton had purchased that ticket.

The only problem was that Tipton was the security director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, responsible for the integrity of 44 states’ Lotto and Powerball. Tipton was finally arrested last year and tossed in prison. He admitted to installing software in the MSLA computers that let him control the winning numbers.

Tipton’s brother won a 2005 Colorado Lotto for a cool $568,990. Then Tipton’s best friend won a similar amount in Wisconsin. Oklahoma is pursuing a 4.5 million dollar lottery that was won by an associate of Tipton’s. Lottery officials admit they have no idea how many past Lotto’s and Powerball’s were affected, but last month the scandal grew wider when Charles Strutt, executive director of the MSLA, was stripped of his duties. And the investigation moves on.

So the next time you want to buy a ticket, try licking your elbow until the feeling passes. You may look silly but you’ll feel richer.


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