|Roger Custer claiming his prize in 2013|
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Who wants to be a billionaire? Everyone
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2016
One thing about Roger Custer’s life hasn’t changed since he won a $50 million Powerball jackpot over three years ago.
He still plays the lottery, the former Levittown man said in a brief phone interview Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, an employee at the Falls store that sold Custer that winning ticket confirmed that he was there buying Powerball tickets Saturday, before the most recent drawing in the record-breaking lottery jackpot.
No doubt luck played a big part in Custer’s December 2012 win, but location also may have helped, too.
The Keystone State is among the luckiest in the nation with 17 Powerball jackpot winners and two Mega Millions jackpot winners since 2002, according to the lottery commission.
Plus, Bucks County has been one of the winningest counties for lottery players recently, according to Pennsylvania Lottery Commission data.
The county ranked fourth among the 67 counties in the state for lottery payouts for fiscal 2014-15 with players receiving $89,289,740 in winnings. In third place was neighbor Montgomery County with $114,047,084 during the last fiscal year.
The top two Pennsylvania counties for lottery winnings for the last fiscal year were Allegheny County at $326.9 million followed by Philadelphia at $287.6 million, according to the lottery commission.
While the totals include all lottery games, including instant scratch off games, Bucks and Montgomery counties have their share of Powerball winners.
Last year, 10 people in Bucks each took home $10,000 playing the game. Montgomery County had five winners who hit for $10,000 each, two for $50,000 each as well as three Powerball Power Play winners last year who took home $20,000, $30,000 and $100,000.
That might be heartening news for players waiting in line for tickets Tuesday afternoon when the now record-setting Powerball jackpot reached $1.5 billion, with a cash value of $930 million.
Langhorne resident Matt Baker said he only plays when the jackpot hits more than $300 million. He was buying a ticket at Country Farms in Falls on Tuesday afternoon.
“I wasn’t going to play, he said, “but since I won on instant lottery I said I might as well try it out.”
Perkasie resident Rhonda Oetzel is among at least 50 people at the Souderton grocery store where she works who chipped in $5 each for tickets. They do the pool whenever the jackpot creeps past $100 million.
They won $68 in Saturday’s drawing, which they used to buy tickets for Wednesday’s drawing, she said.
Her husband also bought $15 in Powerball tickets for Wednesday, all computer picks, she said. The couple only plays when the jackpots are huge, she said. Even then, she usually just buys one ticket.
“I won’t spend a whole bunch of money,” Oetzel added.
Bensalem resident Michelle Heil also reserves lottery-ticket spending for massive jackpots. She has five tickets for Wednesday’s drawing.
She bought them with the winnings she got Saturday after two of her 12 tickets hit on the lucky “13” Powerball and the $2 from a scratch-off winner, she said.
She doesn’t plan to buy more tickets, adding that she knows the chance that she has a winning ticket is hair-thin, but…
If she wins, she’d take the cash payout and buy a recreational vehicle for her family -- and her closest friends -- so they can travel the country together. She also would create trust funds for college education for her kids.
That is if she survived the shock.
“I’m afraid if I had the winning ticket I’d have a heart attack before I claimed it,” she said.
But while the players in Pennsylvania and other Powerball states are busy compiling dream wish lists, statisticians forecast an 85 to 88 percent chance that at least one ticket will hit Wednesday.
That leaves a roughly 12 to 15 percent chance the jackpot will roll over for an unprecedented 20th time, mathematicians said.
BLACK SWAN EVENT
Richard Mishelof is a retired mathematician, probability expert and lottery consultant who helped states -- including Pennsylvania -- monitor and fine-tune their games so people keep playing but revenue goals are met.
The odds of winning a jackpot -- whether it’s $40 million or $2 billion -- are no different, though the higher the jackpot climbs, the greater the statistical probability someone has the winning number combination, he said.
“It’s like predicting snow or rain. When they predict rain, they’ll say a 60 percent or 50 percent chance and it’s a bright day,” he said. “It’s the same concept.”
No one has won at Powerball since November 4, a phenomenon that Mishelof calls a “black swan event.”
On Nov. 4 -- when the jackpot was $40 million -- the lottery likely sold about $20 million in sales that translates to roughly 10 million tickets, Mishelof said. With only 10 million players, there was a 95 percent chance no one had the winning number, he said.
The more times a jackpot rolls over, the more people will start playing. More players increase the number of possible number combinations. The greater the number combinations sold, the greater the probability that one of those combinations will be picked, Mishelof said.
As an example, he pointed out that Saturday’s drawing had 28 second-tier winners where five numbers matched but not the Powerball. It’s highly probable that some of those 28 people also picked the same Powerball number, he said.
Then there are anomalies like the Chinese Cookie Event in 2005, Mishelof said. Lottery officials discovered an unusual number of second-tier winning Powerball tickets were sold in 29 states where the game was played at the time.
There were 110 winners instead of the statistically anticipated four or five, he said. An investigation found the winning numbers were in a fortune cookie made in the same Queens factory.
With the number of tickets sold for Wednesday’s drawing, it's likely more than one ticket has the winning number combination, according to Curtis Bennett, a mathematics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Maryland.
“The likelihood of a ticket split is pretty high,” he added.
With 600 million tickets sold, the odds are 1 in 4 that either one or two tickets will be winners Wednesday, with a tiny statistical advantage that it's two winners, Bennett said. The odds jump to 1 in 10 there will be four winning tickets and 1 in 25 for five winning tickets, he said.
If a billion tickets are sold for Wednesday’s drawing -- assuming most are computer-generated tickets -- the odds the jackpot rolls over again are only 3 percent, he added.
But buying every possible number combination for Wednesday’s drawing – which would cost you about $580 million –would, statistically, guarantee a win, but it wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a second winner, Bennett said.
With two winners sharing the $900 million cash payout, there is no profit made on that $580 million investment, he added.
YOU NEVER KNOW
When Custer hit the Powerball jackpot on Dec. 5, 2012, it was on one of two tickets he bought at the Levittown News & Tobacco in Bristol Township, where the line was eight customers deep Tuesday afternoon. The store’s reputation as lucky keeps its lottery business booming, manager Ashok Kaul said.
While waiting in line for her Powerball tickets, Leslie Miller, of Falls, said she usually stops in to Levittown News & Tobacco about once a week to let the machine pick her numbers
"I had to get my tickets, so good luck to me,” she said. “I just played $20 on the Powerball, I thought that was enough.”
Custer was the first -- and, so far, only -- Bucks Powerball jackpot winner. He took that $33.1 million cash value.
He is also the 20th largest jackpot winner in Pennsylvania history just above Edward Varley of Montgomery County who won $30.7 million in 2002 and below No. 7 -- the Robert Shemonski family -- who won $86.1 million in a Super 6 game in 1999, according to the lottery commission.
Custer, who has been retired 14 years, said Tuesday that he didn’t make any extravagant purchases with his winnings. He added that after taxes he received about $15 million.
“All the grandkids are taken care of,” he said. “Everything is going great.”
Meanwhile, Levittown News & Tobacco employee Raka Raraina, who sold Custer his winning ticket, hopes another customer gets lucky again.
“You never know,” she said.
Staff writer Anthony DiMattia contributed to this story
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia