Two Different Approaches to Winning a Lottery


One Guy Almost Misses his Chance

On these posts we have discussed the near impossibility of winning a lottery from a mathematical viewpoint, but still, somebody does it. “Million-to-one odds” mean nothing when the event actually occurs but sometimes chance goes beyond even those numbers. What are the odds of an event taking place; but no-one knows it did? What is the math of a random occurrence, randomly occurring long after the actual event?

When someone finds a lost wedding ring in a garden they had dug twenty years before this seems miraculous. The phrase “not even a Hollywood writer could come up with this” comes to mind. The story of a dog that finds it’s way hundreds of miles to a lost owner is charming and amazing. We cheer for the dog’s persistence and empathize with the owner’s joy. At least, in that case, every dog has the capability of repeating some version of this story. In our case, stories of people accidentally winning a lottery are not repeatable but there are still curious stories to be told.

Sixty-eight year old former security guard Jimmie Smith has a more lucrative retirement plan today. Not only did he buy a winning ticket, but he didn’t know it. Mr. Smith was in the habit of stuffing his purchases in shirt pockets. Likely, since he never won, he began to simply file the stupid things away and carry on with daily living. The chance-beyond-chance event came when he heard a media report about a $24 million unclaimed prize. The one year anniversary to claim it or lose it was fast approaching. Mr. Smith looked through an old shirt hanging in a closet and found the ‘missing’ ticket.

What if he hadn’t heard that particular report? What if, over the intervening year, that particular shirt was given away or laundered, destroying the ticket? Despite being a habitual buyer, what if he hadn’t bought that ticket on that particular day?

Instead, he and his family get the benefit of an after-tax pay-out over twenty-six years.

What if he had won in Canada where lotteries are tax-free and get paid in fat lumps?

One Guy Tries to Abscond With the Loot

Well, winning in Canada ain’t always a bed of roses! Recently in Chatham ON a gentleman bought a winning ticket but instead of a lump sum, looks set to take some lumps.

Maurice Thibeault thought he could take his winnings and start a new life. After two years co-habiting with his girlfriend Denise Robertson, Mr. Thibeault suddenly moved out. The reason became clear when he showed up at the OLG Prize Claim Office to collect $6.1 million. Fortunately, (or unfortunately according to your viewpoint!), Ms. Robertson got wind of the claim and had a Windsor lawyer shut it down. OLG is a bit antsy about handing out money without a background check since paying millions to retailers back in the early 2000’s. (See “The Good Old Days”, August 8, 2016). As of this posting the matter remains under investigation and neither claimant has seen a dime.

The chance-beyond-chance elements of this story are interesting, if disputed. First off: irony. The prize is actually a split of a $12.2 million 6/49 jackpot. (The other half of the prize has apparently gone smoothly to a Quebec recipient). So, a little schadenfreude; the guy splits a pot with a stranger then tries to split from his girlfriend! Ha! Only a Hollywood writer…etc.

Never mind. The thing is that millions of people buy lottery tickets and millions lose. Except someone every few weeks. In this case, two people decide, or are given by the computer, the exact same number on the same pot. Further, according to Ms. Robertson’s claim, the couple took turns buying tickets each week with the implied agreement to share any winnings. Mr. Thibeault’s rep.’s deny this but if true it adds a layer of chance-beyond-chance: “Honey, did you buy the tickets this week?”

“Yeah sweetie, and wouldn’t ya know it? I won! See ya!”

We don’t know if Mr. Thibeault had been unhappy for a while or if greed got the better of him all of a sudden, but what are the chances you’ll win a lottery just when you want to dump your beau?

As usual unrelated news offers some perspective. In a galaxy way frickin’ far away, two neutron stars collided and blew gold and platinum all over the place. What does this have to do with random lottery tickets and chance co-incidences? Probably not much ultimately, but I got to thinking of the random elements that made up the whole story here on Earth.

130 million years ago, the two massive stars spiraled into each other and exploded so ferociously that they rippled space-time across the universe. We know there are billions of galaxies each comprising billions of stars, (numbers that, like odds, are basically meaningless to civilians). Surely there are millions of neutron stars but only these two crazy kids decide to to hook up. Dinosaurs came and went, ice ages grew and shrank, human ancestors climbed down from trees, and somehow, scientists were able to wangle budgets from reluctant governments…and bam! Here comes a ripple of gravitational waves! We detect them and have theoretical science to explain what we’re detecting and what it means. Maybe millions of other alien civilizations noticed the crash too, but we happen to have the telescopes and detectors to make something of it.

Random events, unobserved by contemporaries, later ripple through time and space. Gold, considered valuable by just about every human, is created far from their sight and grasp. We look to the heavens with every lottery ticket purchase, but the heavens are blind and deaf to our pleas. At least until…

“Honey, did you check the lottery tickets?”



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