The coverage out of Florida about the 84-year-old woman who just claimed that record $590.5 million Powerball® jackpot includes an interesting twist to the story: Another customer let the woman go in line ahead of her. And a lot of people seem to be assuming that the elderly woman ended up with a winning ticket that would have gone to the other customer, but for circumstances. But that’s not necessarily the case. Read on to learn more.
When 84-year-old Gloria C. Mackenzie of Zephyrhills, Fla., claimed her giant prize yesterday, the announcement from Florida Lottery officials included the detail that another lottery player was kind enough to let Mackenzie go ahead of them in line.
The online world has exploded today with references to “the Powerball winner who cut in line.” So the question is: Would the next person in line definitely have received the same winning combination of numbers that Mackenzie purchased? Not necessarily.
I’ve blogged here before about the fact that there isn’t a central computer that controls the Powerball game. The plays in Powerball are generated by the terminal at your local store. That’s one of the reasons there can be (and have been) multiple winners in one drawing. Duplicate plays are a key feature of Powerball’s design.
I double-checked with our I.T. folks this morning about the way our lotto terminals work here in Iowa. Each time a play is made, the terminal generates a random play. And because we’re dealing with random statistics, it is computationally impossible to predict the combination of numbers that will come up next.
Mackenzie bought a single easy-pick play for $2. But would the person in line behind her have received that same winning combination on their ticket if they had bought that ticket? The odds of that happening are similar to as the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: about 1 in 175.2 million.
There’s a well-known 1978 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about people’s likelihood to let others go ahead of them in line to use a copier. The study found that in some instances, more than 90 percent of the people let others go ahead of them.
Here in the Midwest, we’re known for being nice. And I’m here to say it’s OK to let the little old lady go ahead of you in line. If Lady Luck means for you to win the lottery, it will happen.