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Opinion: Friday the 13th — lucky for one, a bust for millions of others

I guess there are still many who view Friday the 13th as unlucky. In fact, when I was having breakfast at a local bagel shop that day earlier this month, I saw a patron showing off a “good luck charm” to the cashier and heard her say that she always wears it on the several times a year that Friday the 13th rolls around to ward off “evil spirits.” (The next Friday the 13th will be in October.)

I suspect if the one winner of the Mega Millions jackpot of $1.35 billion had been a believer in the bad things that could befall him or her on that day, there might not have been a purchase. For the millions of the rest of us who were not winners, we can chalk up our fate to the unlucky calendar date.

The winning ticket was sold at a gas station/convenience store in Lebanon, Maine. It was the first time that a Mega Millions jackpot was ever won by someone in the far northern New England state.

The owners and employees of the Hometown Gas & Grill are euphoric, because the business gets $50,000 for selling the winning ticket. It’s expected that Fred Cotreau, owner of the now famous establishment, will share his good fortune with his handful of employees.

You can understand his skepticism when he received a 6 a.m. call from a lottery official telling him the good news. “I figured at first that it was some kind of a scam,” Cotreau said. “It’s almost incomprehensible to wrap your head around how much it would change somebody’s life, regardless of your status and where you are, to get that kind of payout.”

Cotreau reported that before this gigantic sale the establishment had sold just one winning ticket for $1,000.

The winner has still not come forward as I write this. Assuming the winner chooses the cash option rather than the 20-year annuity payout, he or she will take home “only” $724.6 million after taxes.

These huge jackpots have become much more common of late because of changes to this and the Powerball games where more numbers were added making the odds of hitting the jackpot all the more astronomical.

As now constituted the odds of hitting the Mega Millions jackpot that is offered in 45 states and the District of Columbia are 1 in 302.6 million. The odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot are a little better - 1 in 292.2 million. To put this into perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 1.2 million, while your chances of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million.

The Friday the 13th jackpot was the second-largest ever, next only to the $1.537 billion won in South Carolina in 2018. Oh by the way, for you skeptics this is the seventh time that big jackpots were won on Friday the 13th.

Although there were millions of losers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey alone in this latest huge jackpot, one from each state won $1 million by matching every number except the Mega number.

The winning Pennsylvania ticket was sold at Shyam Retail in Washington, 290 miles southwest of Lehighton; the winning New Jersey ticket was sold at 88 West Deli in Brick, Ocean County, 130 miles southeast of Lehighton.

Out of curiosity, I asked a friend of mine who is a professional gambler whether he ever plays these big money lottery games. “Yeh, I bought five tickets in this one for a total of $10, but, let’s face it, given the odds these are the most sucker of sucker bets,” he said.

It made me feel a little better that I frittered away just $2 on one ticket. My ticket had only one of the winning numbers, not good enough for a payout.

What really blows my mind is that many of us occasional lottery players who invest only when the jackpot is “really up there” will not buy a ticket for the jackpot that started out after the big win at a puny $20 million. “That’s chump change,” I said to myself in deciding to save the $2 that I would have spent on a sure-losing ticket.

By Bruce Frassinelli?|?tneditor@tnonline.com