Lottery’s Fool

By Larry Teren

Maybe because it occurred on a Sunday, but it seemed as if April Fools Day went by quietly this year. No national publicity pranks that I heard of and no personal exposure to “gotcha!”.

I take that back. There was one big-time hustle done to a group of people on Sunday, possibly the most expensive one ever. You see, late Friday night the winning numbers of the largest Mega Millions lottery jackpot ever were announced. The gross pot, if only one Mega Millions winner emerged, was $656 million. As it turned out, there were three winners: One in Kansas, one in a small town of maybe 4000 residents in Illinois near the St. Louis border, and one in Baltimore.

This meant that each of the three Mega Millions winners will receive $105 million after the requisite 20% federal withholding tax is taken. It will behoove the winner to make sure to set aside at least another $35 million to pay the rest of the federal and possibly state income taxes. I’m sure, though, that any of us can accept living on just $70 million, right?

By the way, if there had been only one Mega Millions ticket sold, the take-home after taxes and lump-sum distribution would have been about $347 million. Lottery authorities said that the odds in getting the winning number combination was 1 in 176 million. This meant that all a person had to do was write down on however many lottery punch cards all 176 million number combinations, pay for it and play. A lottery ticket only cost one dollar. If there had been only one Mega Millions winner, he or she would have still been $100 million plus ahead.

I read that on showdown Friday one professional athlete who was making over a million dollars this year and scheduled for a slight increase next year was plunking down $10,000 in tickets because he wanted to win and show everyone else up. Knowing now that he was not among the three winners, I guess he is back to doing whatever it is he is good at.

Here is where the alleged scam comes into play: In Illinois, the winner must be revealed. In Kansas and in Maryland, they can choose to remain anonymous. As it is, Maryland was the first state to announce that someone in Baltimore County held the winning ticket. They were so proud because it had been a long time coming that the state had a Mega Millions winner and it was hurting sales.

Once the news hit, television network news camera teams rushed to the 7-11 store where the winning Mega Millions ticket was sold. Cameras  pointed to the machine that dispensed the quick pick receipt as if it were the Holy Grail revealed. Reporters were being told to leave because the store could not conduct business as usual.

The excitement and pride in a locality gaining a modicum of fame was so Hollywoodesque except for one thing that would put a damper on the celebrating.   Apparently, one person came forward reluctantly. A Haitian immigrant who works at McDonalds was put in charge of buying lottery tickets for a group of co-workers. And she did. But she also said that maybe an hour before cutoff time, she went back to the store to purchase for herself one more lottery ticket. She claimed that the winning numbers for the lottery ticket was the one she did solo.

Told that none of her co-workers believed her, she said that she would share some winnings with them to have peace of mind. But, now she also said that she ‘thinks’ she has the right numbers because some of them matched her lottery ticket. Video surveillance cameras at the 7-11 show that it appears a man was purchasing the lottery ticket at the time the winning numbers registered and not a woman.

Now it turns out on April 10, the Maryland Lottery officials stated that the true winner(s) in Baltimore came forward. It was a trio of people in the world of Academia. One was a woman in her 20’s, another in her 50’s and the third, a man in his 40’s. Since in Maryland they do not have to identify themselves to the public, their lives can continue as such for the time being. Of course, they have to split their share of the $105 million three ways, but that should be the worst of their problems- or mine for that matter.

One is a special education teacher, another an elementary school teacher and the third is an administrator. I presume that they will be giving up their jobs by the end of the school year or be subject to the typical harassment that goes with others being jealous of their co-worker’s good fortune.

As for the original McDonald’s claimant- I presume she is glad that the co-workers who buy tickets in a group with her no longer plan to kill her for holding out on them.

(This story was first published on April 2, 2012 under the title, “Who’s the Fool?”)

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