It could be you -- but it wasn't

May 13, 1994

Being the winner of an $18 million jackpot was the fantasy of thousands of people who trekked to liquor, drug and convenience stores throughout the state this week to buy Lotto tickets. But only Jeffrey Kimble, a Westminster resident and principal at New Windsor Middle School, will live that fantasy. He held the winning numbers -- 11-26-30-32-41-48 -- and for the next 20 years he will receive a check for some $900,000 (before taxes).

Yesterday, something other than crime, celebrity gossip and even the streaking Orioles dominated conversations in Maryland. office water coolers, lunch counters and kitchen tables, people from the poor to the not-quite-rich-enough engaged in daydreaming. "If I had won . . ." came the common refrain. People boasted they would take early retirements and big vacations, buy houses, big cars, big boats, maybe even give a few bucks to family and friends.

Just as John Barrisford Tipton, the mysterious benefactor in the old television series, "The Millionaire," used to solve families' problems each week by giving a big unsolicited check, regular players of the lottery believe that winning the jackpot will ensure a life of bliss. If there's anything we've learned from looking back at past winners, it's that many did not find Nirvana on earth. Still, we all get vicarious pleasure in thinking about the fortune of winners such as Mr. Kimble wll receive.

At the risk of raining on this parade, however, folks should be reminded that a purchaser of a Lotto ticket has a better chance of being struck by lightning in his lifetime (one in 9,100), of being injured in a bathtub during the year (one in 685,000) or of being hit by a meteor (one in 1.2 million) than of picking the six winning numbers of the Maryland State Lottery (one in 6.9 million). Thanks to these extremely improbable odds, the state lottery operation is able to build fairly large jackpots and increase the interest in its major game.

The astronomical odds notwithstanding, thousands will dutifully purchase lottery tickets every week in the hope of a multi-million dollar payout. Nothing is wrong with a little magical thinking as long as it is recognized as such. In fact, at times like yesterday, even those who have never spent a buck on Lotto get to close their eyes and enjoy that fleeting moment of collective delusion.

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