Mary Neubauer has more than luck; she has a really cool job. She gets to spend her days as the vice president for External Relations at the Iowa Lottery. "it really is an interesting place to work because many people have misconceptions about the lottery."
There is more to the lottery than just luck and numbers. First: It involves a massive amount of security and regulations in order to keep everything fair and random. Second: There are too many misconceptions about the lottery to name. And last: Many people who play the lottery have their own beliefs, systems and values that they employ when choosing their lucky numbers.
Security and fairness
There are two games associated with lottery drawings in the United States: Mega Millions and Powerball. Both games are similar in structure, but have different dates when the winning numbers are announced. You can choose your own numbers, or you can purchase a random ticket and a machine will select the numbers for you. Powerball is played in 42 states, Washington, DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mega Millions is played in 42 state lotteries.
Until January 2010, Powerball and the Mega Millions were sold in different states. So for example, Iowa used to only carry Powerball tickets because that was their state's lotto, so many folks would drive to neighboring states to purchase Mega Millions tickets as well, so that they could capitalize on the large jackpot drawings for both games. In an effort to help local economies -- and because many players have complained over the years -- it became legal to sell both types of tickets in a state this past January.
Powerball drawings take place every Wednesday and Saturday in a private studio at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., and the Mega Millions drawings occur every Tuesday and Friday in a secure studio in Atlanta, Georgia. "There is an enormous amount of security involved with ensuring that the game is conducted fairly and that everything is indeed random," Neubauer says. There are two machines -- one for the first pool of five numbers, and one for the second set with just one number. Security and randomness are maximized with auditors onsite at all drawings, security details, judges, various machines and various sets of balls -- all of which are rotated randomly to ensure the fairness and integrity of the games.
Misconceptions about the lottery
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries is that many people think that the more tickets that are sold, the less their chances are of winning, says Neubauer. But in fact, "the odds never change." Some people also have ideas or beliefs about certain numbers doing better than others in certain drawings, but that is false also, "because it's all random."
Who plays the Lotto?
More people than you might think play the lottery. Not only is it a widespread game geographically speaking, but it also spans various age groups, demographics and backgrounds. It is not expensive to play, ($1 per ticket) and people like the idea of winning big. "Here in Iowa, over 80 percent of the adult population (21 and older) has played the lottery at some point in their lives," Neubauer says. Some people play religiously while others only play on occasion, but the promise of a huge windfall -- and all the potential outcomes from it -- is a large draw. It's enticing to all sorts of people on all different levels, for all different reasons.
How a believer became a winner
Cynthia P. Stafford, of Los Angeles, played the California Mega Millions lottery in April 2007 at a little mom-and-pop store (which is no longer there), and won the $112 million jackpot.
Stafford doesn't mind if you call her a dreamer, because she knows from experience that dreams can come true -- if you believe.
Stafford only played the lottery when she felt lucky. In April 2007, she wrote down the exact amount of money that she wanted to win -- $112 million -- and she slept with that piece of paper under her pillow. "So when the jackpot hit $112 million, I knew it was mine," recalls Stafford. She usually preferred to play her own numbers, but on this one occasion she did not. "I decided not to use them; that was putting too much of my influence on it. I let the universe tale care of the hows. That's a very big part of believing."
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Southern California when Stafford learned of her good fortune. "I was having lunch with my dad and brother and heard the announcement that someone had won the $112 million jackpot in our area. I already knew it was my ticket." After lunch, Stafford returned home and checked the numbers in the newspaper, remembering her own numbers, but allowing a few days to go by before she even looked for the ticket itself. Panic struck because Stafford did not initially know where the ticket was; but once she found it in the door of the family's errand car, she made the call to claim her prize. "When the ticket was confirmed over the phone by the lottery board, I nearly fainted," says Stafford. "The realization that the power of belief and visualization had come true before my very eyes was overwhelming!"
Since her big win three years ago, Stafford says that not much in her life is different. "My job was Mom when I won; I'll never quit being Mom. The five kids I've taken care of since my brother's passing are still my No, 1 priority. My life is very similar to the way it was before I won the lottery. I always loved movies, going to the theater, helping others, spending time with family, cracking jokes and bargain-hunting. I do all of the same things, just on a larger scale."
Does Stafford still play the Lotto? "Oh yes, I definitely still play the lottery. I plan on winning again, the largest jackpot yet! There's still plenty of work to do on this earth and a few hundred million more dollars makes it a bit easier."
Just don't ask her what numbers she plans on playing, because this believer is mum about those. Plus, all the winning numbers are random, reminds Neubauer, so you can't plan for a windfall like this -- but you can be a believer.