You Can Guarantee a Win and 9 Other Bizarre Facts About the Lottery


It's something many of us dream about, but few will ever experience: Winning the lottery. The idea of buying a ticket for a few bucks and turning it into hundreds of millions of dollars overnight is tempting to say the least. We all know it's not very likely to happen. Still, that doesn't stop millions of us playing it every week. And you'd be amazed by some of the stories and facts that the lottery produces. Here are the top 10 bizarre facts about lotteries, in no particular order. (See also: Playing the Lottery Is a Bad Gamble)

1. Non-Winning Tickets Can Be Used Again

Don't just trash your losing tickets. Whether scratch cards, quick picks, or personal numbers, those tickets can be used again to enter second-chance drawings. This is something done by the different lotteries to help with customer loyalty and ease those feelings of loss. However, you probably never heard about this because they rarely advertise the fact. Some states require you to mail in your ticket, others want you to register the serial number. But it's a free entry, so why not? Check your state's second-chance lottery after every draw, and you might get lucky.

2. Good Manners Cost One Powerball Player $590 million

When Mindy Crandell went to buy her ticket from the local Publix supermarket, she let an 84-year old woman step ahead of her in line. It was a nice, polite thing to do. And it cost Mindy a fortune. That old woman who went ahead of her purchased a Quick Pick ticket, the one Mindy was supposed to get. Gloria C. Mackenzie, the Florida retiree, collected over $370 million before taxes, the lump sum option. Mindy got nothing, except perhaps the chance to reevaluate her politeness.

3. You're More Likely to Be Killed By a Vending Machine Than Win a Lottery

Sad, but true. Most lotteries have insurmountable odds. The Mega Millions lottery, for instance, has odds of 176 million to 1. That means you have a greater chance of being killed by a vending machine (112 million to 1), becoming president (10 million to 1), dying from being left-handed (4.4 million to 1), or dying in the bathtub (840,000 to 1). In fact, if you decide to leave the house now to buy a lottery ticket, the odds favor you dying before you ever buy the ticket than actually winning the jackpot.

4. You Can Guarantee a Lottery Win, but It's a Logistical Nightmare

Usually, buying up almost every combination of lottery tickets is self-defeating. For a jackpot of only $20 million dollars, you'd have to spend many times more to put the odds in your favor. However, when the jackpot becomes huge, over $400 million, then the math starts to make sense. However, organizing such an endeavor would take a syndicate of massive proportions. The venture has all kinds of problems, including severe trust issues, and the settlement of the winnings would take a small firm of accountants. The other option would be for a single multi-millionaire to corner the market, but anyone with such funding behind them would have far better ways to guarantee a return.

5. Many Lottery Winners Blow Their Fortunes Quickly

The problem with coming into a lot of money very quickly is that it took no discipline to get it. It's free money, and because of that, it's not always shown the respect of earned money. Another problem is a lack of knowledge of basic financial principles by the winners. $15 million seems like an unspendable amount of money, but these days it's not. It should last a lifetime with careful investment, but start buying houses, cars, yachts, and party nights, and you could see that fortune crumble in just a few years. Michael Carroll, a garbage man in the UK, did just that. He won around $15 million at the tender age of 19, and eight years later he'd blown it all and was back on the garbage truck again. (See also: People Who Became Millionaires Overnight and What They Did With the Money)

6. Fortune Cookies Can Predict Winners

Well, of course they can. The random selection of numbers printed in fortune cookies have the same chance of winning as any other random set of numbers. And that's just what happened in 2005. A random group of 110 people played the same fortune cookie numbers and each one thought they had won the whole $19.4 million jackpot. Instead, 89 winners received $100,000, and 21 got $500,000 as they had opted for the Power Play. It's not a bad haul, but it's not the fortune they were expecting. There was even a fraud investigation looking into the strange result.

7. The "1,2,3,4,5,6" Combo Is as Likely as Any, but You Should Never Play It

Statistically, that selection of numbers is not ridiculous to play. If you replace the numbers with symbols, it's easier to see why. However, there are several reasons not to play that sequence.

First, there are thousands of people who play it, because they believe the same thing. Hey, it has to happen some time. So if it ever does come up, you'll be sharing the jackpot with a lot of people.

Second, despite the odds being the same, the sequence has never yet been chosen, suggesting that although the numbers alone have the same chances, the combination may not. I'm no mathematician, but this person has done some extensive research on it. It seems you're better off with a bunch of random numbers.

8. Some Lives Are Ruined by Winning the Lottery

Be careful what you wish for. What we think we need to be happy is not always what will actually bring us happiness. And money, well, that's the biggest red herring of them all. While it's true that a lack of money can make you unhappy for obvious reasons, drowning in it will only bring short-term pleasure. From breaking up families and friendships to death threats and prison time, the lottery has been an ironic windfall for many people over the years.

9. You Better Know Where You Bought That Ticket

When the million-dollar jackpot comes up, lottery officials don't just hand over the cash if you have the winning ticket. They do checks to make sure you were the one who bought it, and where you purchased it. A case in 2010 puzzled Iowa lottery officials when no one came forward to claim the $14.3 million prize. Then, one year later, two hours before the deadline, a New York man named Crawford Shaw presented the ticket via two attorneys. The story from Crawford is suspect, evidence is sketchy, and as of December 2013, the mystery has still not been solved. And as such, the money has never been handed over.

10. Scammers Use the Names of Lottery Winners

Perhaps the most famous case of philanthropy from lottery winnings, in recent years at least, was the story of Violet and Allen Large. The elderly Canadian couple won over $11 million in July 2010. They gave over 98% of it away, saying that they were comfortable and had each other, which was the most important part of life. That was an open invitation to scammers though. They used the names of Violet and Allen in an email scam, claiming to be giving away millions. It works like any Nigerian email scam, so if you ever get one from them, know that it's completely bogus.

What would you do with your lottery winnings? Please share in comments! [Buy a Zeppelin and travel the world in it. — Ed.]

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