While working for a former employer, some workmates and I used to pool our money every other week to purchase Powerball tickets. We won several times—less than $100 when split at least eight ways—and we used the proceeds to buy more Powerball tickets. I never felt like I was wasting money, nor did I think we’d ever win big; to me, it was part of the office camaraderie. I trusted the woman who collected money and purchased the tickets; she would make a copy of the tickets and give everyone a sheet, so we could confirm that she bought them and that she hadn’t secretly won without telling us.
Boy, am I glad that I didn’t work with Mirlande Wilson.
Wilson recently claimed to be among the three winners from last Friday's record $656 million Mega Millions drawing. She also was the “ticket lady” for co-workers at a McDonald’s in suburban Baltimore. On Sunday, Wilson told The New York Post that she purchased tickets for her co-workers, but she also bought some tickets of her own—among them the winning ticket. She then reportedly refused to share the money. (Pressed on the subject of the winning ticket, Wilson later told The New York Post, “I don’t know if I won. Some of the numbers were familiar... I bought some tickets separately.”) Now, there are doubts as to whether she even won.
In my opinion, lotteries are a form of state-backed gambling: It’s legal, and the state is the bookie. With Powerball and Mega Millions, states join forces to sell more tickets and increase income from those sales. Maryland, Illinois, and Kansas will land hefty sums in taxes off those winning tickets. (Already, it's been reported that schools in Illinois and Missouri will receive more than $38 million from the lottery sales.)
Of course, the odds of my winning the Mega Millions with the $4 in tickets that I purchased before last week's drawing were about the same as getting struck by lightning. Then again, I know two people who have been struck by lightning—literally, not figuratively. And there's the case of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, a sensation with the Dallas Cowboys in the late '70s. After blowing a lot of money on drugs and good times, Henderson sobered up and won the Texas lottery. Then, he won again. He cashed big-money tickets twice within five years, proving that lightning can strike twice in the same place.
Getting back to Wilson, though: My guess is that if she is indeed among the Mega Millions winners, she'll cough up the cash—or face the wrath of her co-workers in court for years to come. That money could buy a lot of Big Macs and a new lease on life for several people.
Her co-workers probably won’t give up without a fight. You can count on that number.
Commentary by Alvin Reid