The old joke is that a person has a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. But Calvin and Zatera Spencer of Portsmouth, Virginia, beat those odds and then some when the couple became lottery winners three times in two weeks, taking home more than $2 million.
The first win was on March 12, with a $1 million Powerball. On March 26, Calvin bought 10 Pick 4 tickets, with the combination 6-6-6-6. With a total $6 million payout, his 10 tickets won $50,000. Then on March 27 Calvin stopped at a 7-11 in Norfolk , bought a $100 Million Cash Extravaganza scratcher ticket and won another $1 million, which was actually second prize. By then he was not feeling like a loser.
The Cash Extravaganza is an annuity. The Spencers could either choose to receive the full $1 million over 30 years or a one-time cash payout. They chose the cash option, which was $681,000 before taxes.
What are the odds of becoming lottery winners in even one of these contests? The Pick 4 game has odds of a mere one in 10,000. The odds of winning the $1 million second prize in the Cash Extravaganza is one in 836,000. The odds of winning the Powerball are a whopping one in 175 million on a single ticket. The odds of getting struck by lightning are only one in 3 million.
Ronald L. Wasserstein, Executive Director of the American Statistical Association says people have a hard time visualizing 1 in 175 million odds because they never see 175 million objects.
An example he uses to demonstrate these odds is to ask a person to imagine 175 million one dollar bills, one of which is marked as the lucky bill. The person is asked to pick one single bill, and if it happens to be the lucky one they get all 175 million dollars.
How big a haystack does one have to sift through in order to find that one lucky bill? Wasserstein says based on the dimensions of a $1 bill, 175 million dollar bills would fill two semi-trailers. When laid out end to end it would be enough to go around the outer perimeter of the United States twice.
Richard Lustig of Florida became a grand prize lottery winner seven times. His fifth win was the biggest, with a prize of $842,000. Overall Lustig has won over $1 million. He picked up on a pattern after his fourth win.
Lustig’s advice would probably not be applicable to couples as lucky as the Spencers, who were somehow lottery winners three times in two weeks. Lustig says not to buy quick-picks with computer generated numbers because the odds are too high. This would include Powerball, where the odds are always one in 175 million. If a person plays the games where they pick their own numbers and play those numbers consistently, he says the odds get a little better each time.
Lustig also has a method with scratchers. He says go after games with smaller jackpots because the odds of winning the smaller contests are better, and even a $40,000 win could be life-changing.
If a person is lucky enough to win, Lustig says the first thing to do is get a financial planner. Pay off all the bills, set up investments for the future, and only then go out and buy the fun stuff.
Calvin Spencer says they are not finished yet. The Virginia couple plans to continue playing, hoping to continue their lucky streak. Apparently the odds of becoming lottery winners three times in less than one month have not been calculated, except to say that they are even more astronomical than 175 million to one.
By Beth A. Balen