Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Time I Almost Kinda Won 300 Million Dollars

My friend Bruce taught me something once. He said when he plays the lottery, he doesn't even check the winning numbers to see if he's won. He just waits and waits and if it gets to the point where no one has claimed the jackpot, he figures now there's a real chance his ticket won.

When the Powerball jackot reached $300 million a few weeks back, I bought a ticket. The morning after the drawing, I was checking my e-mail, and my friend Chan casually ended his correspondence with "that wasn't you that hit the Powerball, was it?"

Oh my lottery gods. If Chan was saying this, he must have found out that the winning ticket was sold in Rhode Island. I had Kim check it out--that was indeed the case.

Now I'm not even sure I was going to do the "Bruce Method"--maybe if I'd thought about the big drawing that morning, I would have gone and checked the winning numbers. But suddenly, without even trying, I'd reached Phase Two of the Bruce Method: Knowing the winner has been narrowed down to your state. As a bonus, I live in the smallest state!

So now I'm thinking, Okay, the jackpot went up by, what, 80 million since the last draw? At 2 or 3 dollars a ticket, depending on if you played the PowerPlay thing, we've got something like, uh, 30 million tickets out there, among the 40-something states that have Powerball. Let's just say 40 million tickets in 40 states to make it easier. That means my state would have a million tickets. Meaning suddenly I'm down to a 1-in-a-million chance at having the winning ticket. Granted, the term "1-in-a-million" is basically the definition of having "no chance," but compared to the actual odds of picking the winning numbers (175 million to 1), that's a huge deal. But we're not even talking about the odds of "picking the right numbers" at this point, we're talking about the odds of "having the ticket which has already won."

On top of that, you have to eliminate the people who actually look at the winning numbers (non-Brucers). And that's probably, what, 80-90 percent of people? Because if they've won, they would have come forward. After a few days, we're probably down to me and the other 5% of people who either forgot they bought a ticket or haven't checked the numbers for whatever reason. (Unless the person knows they've won but just hasn't come forward yet.) Five percent of a million? That's 50,000 people. And that's IF 1,000,000 tickets were sold in Rhode Island. You know what the population of Rhode Island is? One million. So let's say only 250,000 tickets were sold here. Now we're talkin a 1 in 12,500 chance of my ticket having the winning numbers and me being the proud owner of 600 million Kennedy half-dollars.

So the days went by....

I was doing everything I could to keep myself from checking those numbers. As each day passed, using my logic, the odds crept in the direction of my favor.

I had kind of hoped that at some moment, I'd see the numbers somewhere and they'd look just like mine but I'd look away quick and then try to picture in my head what I just saw, and try to figure out if those really were my numbers.

At one point, Kim decided she'd at least check the actual numbers. I didn't want to see her face, because she has a rough idea of the types of numbers I'd pick (your 8s, your 9s, that kind of thing) and I didn't want to see her face drop knowing that I probably didn't win. So I lied to her and told her I had bought a Quick Pick. That way, it wouldn't matter what numbers she saw.

I even drove by the gas station where I bought the ticket, hoping to see some kind of official Powerball truck there, with some guy handing the cashier a giant "we sold the winning Powerball ticket" sign. Then I'd really be narrowing it down. But there was no such truck. There probably is no such truck.

Then one day I was checking the Daily News site. Their front page is loaded with stories. And suddenly the dream was dead--I saw the words "Powerball" and "Newport." And then "Stop & Shop." If it had said "Providence" and "Cumberland Farms," well...it doesn't matter because it didn't.

I had to break the news to the few people I had allowed into the would-be winner's circle of friends. Kim. Chan. And, of course, Bruce.

But there was one last chance, because hey, maybe they made a mistake--I'd have to check the numbers. Incredibly, the first number matched my first number. 1. Can you imagine if I'd decided to just go ahead and check the numbers, using my dad's patented "Squeeze it out" method? I would have seen that I had the first number right and had a heart attack. I probably would've convinced myself beyond a doubt at that point that I'd won. Winning ticket from my state, no one's stepped forward, first of six numbers correct. Oh well. I died with my boots on.

Postus Scriptus: This morning, they finally had the press conference. We would learn the identity of the winner. It's funny, I had seen a cartoon in a local paper showing two people who'd just ripped up their Powerball ticket. One was saying to the other, "don't worry, we live in Rhode Island, we're probably related to the winner." The sentiment is very true--once I met one person here, I suddenly knew all the people. Anyone you meet here already knows everyone you know. Anyway, hearing "Newport," I was assuming some rich person who didn't need any more money was the winner. So I was happy to see that the winner was...a little old lady. They said her son was a "famed" musician. I looked him up, and he is Leroy White. Leroy's music is described as ringing of "freedom. Freedom to help make the world into a better place through love and creativity, and freedom to inspire and light the way for all of us all through music." On his website, he wrote "WITH THE NEW SONGS, I'M GOING TO RECORD ONE AT A TIME, PUT IT ON THE WEB SITE AND OFFER IT UP AS A LOVE OFFERING." Guy started out in Newark, won a talent contest at the age of 13, and went on to be a well-known musician. And his 81-year old mom wins the freakin' Powerball. Good for them. I hope their Newport neighbors who cringe at seeing black people and mock them for being not rich have to see their kids driving this woman around in a giant limo as their summer job. How sweet it would be: "Mom, can we go visit Mrs. White, she's got the good caviar." (Note: not all Newportians are snobs, but if you're a snob in Rhode Island, you've probably made your way to Newport. Or East Greenwich.)

Here's Leroy!

If I had to pick the winner myself, I'd probably choose the woman who raised that guy. You know they're gonna gives lots of money to people in need.

And so I asked my other friend, that first person I met in this state, and of course, she and her boyfriend, being musicians who have played all over this state for decades, know Leroy White.

Louise White's story in her own words. So I guess she knew pretty much right away....

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Location: Rhode Island, United States