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Posted on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Confession of a first-time Powerball lottery player (and future millionaire)

By Ben Freed


I caved and bought a second ticket when I went to the Diag Party Shoppe to hear what sales had been like.

Joseph Tobianski |

I know the chances of me winning the jackpot are not high. To be exact, they are 1 in 175,223,510.

I’ve seen the websites with posts about how I’m more likely to die from being left handed (even though I’m right handed) than to win.

But come on, someone is going to walk away from this Powerball with at least $550 million, why not me?

The last time I bought a lottery ticket I was 18 and the losing scratch-off ticket went into the trash along with the cigar I never ended up smoking. My parents always called the lottery the stupidity tax, and I was taught to look down on those who wasted their money playing games they were rigged to lose.

But it’s $550 million.

Everyone thought that Nate Silver’s statistical analysis would go out of style after the election, but it’s returned as probabilities and the worth of buying a ticket are hotly debated across the country.

I spent the better part of 10 minutes this morning explaining to a co-worker that my odds of winning this Powerball are equivalent to me winning any other Powerball drawing. If you’re interested, it’s because the likelihood of the six numbers I chose being selected by the random machine doesn’t change no matter how many people buy tickets or how many weeks it has been since the last winner.

With the odds the same as in any week’s drawing, it actually makes sense that more Americans would buy tickets as the jackpot goes higher. With equal odds but a higher potential return on investment, one could almost make the argument that my $2 purchase was a “smart buy.”

Or maybe it’s just the $550 million talking.

Diag Party Shoppe owner Jerome Kamano said there isn’t even a word for how much bigger business has been since the jackpot hit half a billion.

“There was a line here all morning. And I’d say 70 percent of the people who are playing are like you, never done it before,” he said.

“They ask me ‘what is it?’ ‘How do I win?’ ‘What channel will the results be on?’ I tell them they have a smartphone so just Google it tonight [Wednesday night].”

Admittedly, when I walked into the Party Shoppe last night to buy my first ticket I was about as clueless as the rest of them. I had to be walked through the process of picking 5 “white” numbers and one red “power” number.

“You can do it yourself or the machine can pick them for you,” Kamano said. “It’s been about 50/50 with people picking their own numbers.”

I wasn’t about to let a machine decide what could be the most monumental choices of my life. Besides, at the press conference when I win I want to be able to tell the world why I chose every number.

I can’t give away my numbers (I don’t want anyone out there buying the same ticket so I have to split the winnings!) but for the record: I went with my birthday and month, my sister’s favorite number, my dad’s age, and the year the University of Texas chapter of my fraternity was founded. My power number was a number with special significance in the Jewish tradition.

Another co-worker asked me what the odds were that all of those numbers that held significance to me would be chosen. The answer of course is 1 in approximately 175 million, exactly the same as any other combination.

But mine will be the one that wins $550 million.

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do with the money once I win. Obviously I’ll give a large amount to charity and I’ll invest a good amount so that it can last me for a long time and… Oh no! Stop! Remember the odds!

Other people threw far more into the jackpot than I did. Kamano said one man bought 300 tickets at once Wednesday morning. I will not be a regular lottery player after this experience (unless I win) but there was a definite adrenaline rush in throwing my $2 into the hat for the chance at a monstrous payday.

In fact, when I went back to the Party Shoppe to talk to Kamano on Wednesday afternoon about how many people had bought tickets, I couldn’t help myself. I bought a second ticket.

I know that my high school math teachers will be very disappointed, but my statistics skills are not strong enough to tell me what my new odds are now that I have two tickets in the game.

All I know is that I have a chance (or two) at $550 million.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Ben Vinnik

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 5:22 a.m.

My dad also bought a lottery ticket first time in his life

Ben Freed

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

For those wondering, the winning numbers were: White numbers: 5 23 16 22 29 Power number is: 6 Between my two tickets I only matched one number so no one gets any dough (at least from me). Thanks for reading and commenting y'all!


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

my-my-my, how the mighty hath fallen........

Steven Murphy

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:11 a.m.

God knows I could use some dough.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

we could all use some "dough", but some of us have to take it on the "loaf".......nyuk nyuk nyuk......


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:04 a.m.

When all of the "facts" and comments are made... I still know this is what playing the lottery is really about. * If you do not buy a ticket it is guaranteed you will not win. Just 2 dollars spent puts you in the game and you can think about "what if" until the drawing. Then you can either say "oh darn" or "Yippee" :+} *

Steven Murphy

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:12 a.m.

Well put.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:55 a.m.

Glazed or filled?


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

Well I'm in for a free $500. But since I'm commenting, I'll say that if you took the cash option, after taxes you'd be looking at a ("mere") $218.5 million. And remember, federal withholding is only 25 (or 29) percent. The tax you'll actually owe is 35%. So don't go spend it all too quick or you'll find yourself in debtor's prison!

Ron Granger

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:54 a.m.

The odds say you're more likely to be struck by lightning on uranus.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.



Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:49 a.m.

Yeow! That's gotta hurt!!

Are you serious?

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:49 a.m.

I once read a book written by a statistics professor who was trying to convince his Dad that buying lottery tickets was a bad idea. He asked his Dad what he thought the odds were of winning. Dad said "about 50%." The professor obviously frustrated asked Dad why he thought that. Dad said "either I win or I don't. That's 50%." BTW you can send my $500 to my account in the Cayman Islands.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

A statistics professor should know winning or not winning is a binary outcome and that the probability of success, or winning, is not 50%. But I hope you win Ben! I could use the $500 :)

Ben Freed

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:10 a.m.

There's a story about a man who really wanted to win the Lottery when there was a big jackpot so he started praying really hard. He prayed every day for god to help him win the lottery. The big day came and no one won, driving the jackpot up even higher. The man went back and prayed again asking "God, please, I've never asked for much, just let me win the lottery." He hears a booming voice answer him back: "Abe, meet me half way... Buy a ticket!!"


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:40 a.m.

Good Luck Ben!


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:16 a.m.

Good luck Ben! I'll send $500 your way if (no when!) I win.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

Lottery officials said that there is a 75% chance the jackpot will go to night. I am 100% certain I will win it.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 12:53 a.m.

500 dollar post. Ben has already hit the lottery if his desk is next to Lizzys. :)

Tom Teague

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

Good luck Ben. And if You win, I promise to use the $500 only for good.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Tom, define "good"....


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, ..."


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:19 p.m.

Wow, 300 lottery tickets bought by one person. Are most places generally pretty nice about "walking you through it"? I wouldn't know the first thing how to do it, which it what has probably prevented me from ever buying one, lol.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

Go to the cashier and say, "I'd like an easy pick chance on the PowerBall, hand him/her your $2.00, wait for your ticket and walk out. Couldn't be easier. If you want to pick your own numbers, Ben will have to walk you through that process! :) I've never done that -- too much work and the odds of winning are exactly the same either way.

Ben Freed

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

I can't speak for all locations, but the people at the shop I went to were extremely friendly (even when they didn't know I was a member of the press). The location you buy your ticket from makes money with every ticket sold, so it's in their best interest to be helpful!


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

It won't be $550 million after taxes, but it will be enough. Just don't take the lump sum likea lot of people tell you to, pace yourself. If I were to win I'd hire a personal trainer so I could live the Charlie Sheen lifestyle.

the leprachaun

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

good luck


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:30 p.m.

Jerome is awesome! I remember him from back in the day...


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

Ben - I hate to break this to you, but unless you picked the exact same numbers that I did, you are not going to win. Because I picked the winning numbers. I just know it. Best wishes to you the next time. ;-)

Dr. Fate

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

From the title, I honestly thought this was about a guy in Ann Arbor who won the lottery on his first ticket, so I was kind of disappointed that the young go-getter in the photo is not yet a millionaire. So each of us commenters has a 1 in 175 million chance of winning $500 now with zero payment on our part. Smart buy! Best of luck!

Myra Klarman

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9 p.m.

You're saying this comment is potentially worth $500? How could I possibly resist ;)

Julianne Smith

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

That was funny.

Ben Freed

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

Every commenter who comments on the story or posts it on Facebook or Twitter will get $500 if I win the jackpot!


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:44 a.m.

How much if I don't out you?

Steven Murphy

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 4:23 a.m.

Excluding utilities, my rent alone is $780 for one month. Can't we kick it up to an even $5,000,000?;-)

Terry Star21

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:47 a.m.

I'm in Ben, my first $25.00 will donate to Kyle Meinke for a haircut. Actually, he should play the lotto - he picked Michigan's season in August to perfection (I'm still mad at him....).

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:27 a.m.

And Ben, you'll want to get that money into a tax haven before the "wealth" tax hits!

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 3:24 a.m.

And if I win I'll send you $500 Ben.


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:45 a.m.

I'm in Ben, but please send my share to the Warm the Children fund. Good luck!


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

Let's hope you don't find yourself with 1,000,000 friends that do or you may be in the poorhouse....


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 12:58 a.m.

Count me in. Good luck Ben.

Paula Gardner

Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 12:19 a.m.

You're so generous! Signed, Your Favorite Editor


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 12:05 a.m.

Good luck Ben! I'm too lazy to buy my own ticket.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

Good idea Richard, actually, maybe I'll just update everyone's username to be the same as mine if Ben wins ;)

music to my ear

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9 p.m.

ben looking for you "bro" since I came out of the woodwork "bro" can i get a mill love ya sis

Richard Carter

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

I'm in! If you win we just better not suddenly see that we have all turned into deleted "violation of content guidelines" replies. :)

Jessica Webster

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

Good luck, Ben!

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Good luck, Ben! Of course, because I sit next to you, I'll expect a donation :)


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.



Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

Ben's PowerBall is 18...

Ben Freed

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

There are many numbers with special significance in Judaism. But that's not a bad guess.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

It's a myth that someone is going to win it - not necessarily. On the other hand, if I don't play at all, it definitely won't be me. Food for thought. Good luck. If you stop posting stories to we'll know who won. :-)