Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn decided this month not to take any more chances with Northstar Lottery Group, the company that runs the Illinois Lottery, after it fell far short of promised revenue.
Northstar's firing was one of several recent lottery-related news developments. In California, officials unveiled a program to let drivers buy lottery tickets at the gas pump. And the Los Angeles Ethics Commission backed the idea of awarding cash prizes to randomly selected voters in order to boost turnout. On Sunday, Wyoming became the 44th state to operate a lottery.
Meanwhile, here's a lucky number for you — 10, as in things:
1. A Powerball drawing in 2005 produced more than 110 second-place winners — far more than normal — and organizers worried that fraud was afoot. That is, until winners began explaining that they got the numbers from fortune cookies. A mass-produced slip of paper with five of the six winning numbers was traced to a fortune cookie factory in New York. (See Fortune cookie bet made Powerball lottery players rich, Lottery Post, May 11, 2005.)
2. Lotteries come and lotteries go, and many states outlawed them after Congress authorized a Grand National Lottery in 1823 to help pay to beautify Washington, D.C. But the private agent organizing the contest absconded with the receipts, and the winner had to take his claim all the way to the Supreme Court to get his $100,000. (That would be worth nearly $2 million today.)
3. Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" deals with an annual drawing in a small town in which (spoiler alert!) the "winner" is stoned to death by fellow citizens. Though the story is a classic today, its publication in 1948 disturbed many, including the author's mother. "Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker," Jackson's mom wrote, adding that "it does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don't you write something to cheer people up?"
4. A low point in the lofty career of George Washington came in 1769 when he helped organize a lottery in which 55 slaves were raffled off in parcels that separated parents from children.
5. A stripped-down version of the lottery — drawing straws — made winners of all jazz lovers in 1934. That's when young Ella Fitzgerald drew straws with two girlfriends to decide which one would enter an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Fitzgerald drew the short straw and intended to enter the dance contest. But she thought the competition was too stiff among the dancers, so she switched to the singing contest and won, launching a brilliant career.
6. Carl Atwood, 73, of Elwood, Ind., was one of the fortunate lottery players capturing a spot on a televised "Hoosier Millionaire" competition in 2004. He did well on the show, amassing $57,000, with the opportunity to go for a $1 million prize later. "I must admit I never expected to be leaving the show with this amount of money," he said. "Now I can purchase a very nice car." But Atwood's luck ended there. A few hours later, he was hit by a truck and killed. (See Man dies after win on lottery TV show, Lottery Post, Jan. 24, 2004.)
7. Nobody wanted to win the lottery held Dec. 1, 1969. Ordered by President Richard Nixon to rectify the inequities in the Vietnam draft, it drew national TV coverage as a man pulled little balls out of a deep glass bowl to determine who was going to war. Except, it wasn't so random. Late-year birthdays averaged much lower numbers, meaning young men born in November and December were more likely to be called to fight. What happened? According to a New York Times story a month later, the organizers packed the capsules, month by month, into a box, which was shaken several times. The capsules were poured into the bowl, but nobody stirred them. Why? Officials remembered that for a 1940 draft, some capsules broke open after they were mixed.
8. Thank Louisiana for the fact that you can't buy a lottery ticket through the U.S. mail. After the Civil War, the Southern states were desperate for cash. Louisiana's lottery, called the Serpent, was hugely successful and notoriously corrupt, slithering into every state of the union — and a whole lot of pockets in the Louisiana legislature. By one account, almost 50 percent of all mail coming into New Orleans was connected to the lottery. Pressured by other states, Congress in 1890 forbid using the Postal Service to peddle lotteries. The law stands today.
9. Winning the big jackpot may actually be worse than not winning it. Stories abound of newly made millionaires mismanaging their windfall and ending up destitute and alone. Jeffrey Dampier Jr. seemed to be handling the $20 million he won in Illinois in 1996 relatively well. He moved to Florida, took care of his family and bought a business. But in July 2005, he was kidnapped and killed by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Despite Dampier's apparent generosity, the motive was still greed, prosecutors said. (See Woman sentenced to life in prison for slaying of lottery winner, Lottery Post, Sep. 22, 2006.)
10. Everybody knows the chances of winning that huge Powerball jackpot are small, but it's impossible for most people to get their minds around what 1 in 175 million really means. Stanford University mathematician Keith Devlin offered this translation: "Imagine a standard NFL football field. Somewhere in the field, a student has placed a single, small, common variety of ant that she has marked with a spot of yellow paint. You walk onto the field blindfolded, and push a pin into the ground. If your pin pierces the marked ant, you win. Otherwise you lose. Want to give it a go?"