This story is placing a bet.
The bet is on Jerry Vogelsang’s winning the $400 million Powerball drawing Wednesday night.
The odds on this bet are long. Vogelsang has about a 1 in 175 million chance of hitting the Powerball jackpot. So does anyone else who plays. It boils down to statistics and chance. Even buying multiple tickets, as Vogelsang did, does not help that much.
Vogelsang could be any Powerball player. He could win. In fact, he might.
He was picked at random for this story, like a plastic ball floating through the lottery’s air chamber. He just happened to walk in the door of the Circle K Shell gas station at Sturdy Drive and Watson Road in Crestwood at the right time. It was Monday afternoon. The sky was pale gray. Any size fountain drink was 79 cents. There was no line. Cashier Amanda Maloney stood by the lottery terminal.
He said hello. She smiled back.
“15 Powerballs please, on separate tickets,” Vogelsang said. “10 Mega Millions, on separate tickets.”
The Powerball tickets were $2 each. Mega Millions were $1. He paid $40 cash.
Mega Millions, another multistate lottery, has a drawing tonight for a $130 million jackpot — a good amount, but one obscured by Powerball’s potential payout. This is the fourth time this year the Powerball jackpot has surpassed $300 million.
The lottery terminal churned out his picks.
Vogelsang is 71. He lives in St. Louis. He is retired from Anheuser-Busch. He plays the lottery on a regular basis and for a simple reason. All those economists who write papers decrying lotteries for being such poor investments seemed to have missed the point.
“I’ve got money, and I want more,” he said, smiling. “I’m an American.”
He let the computer select his numbers. That’s what 70 percent to 80 percent of players do, according to Powerball. Vogelsang once tried picking his own numbers, numbers that meant something to him, numbers that sounded good together — 22, 32, 42 …. But it never worked out. He tried picking numbers at random by laying lottery slips on the table and closing his eyes. He asked his young grandchildren to suggest numbers they liked.
“I thought the little babies would do well,” he said. “But they didn’t.”
So he stopped asking them.
Now, he leaves it up to chance.
“If the good Lord wants me to win, I’m going to win. If not, then not,” he said.
He didn’t even glance at his picks Monday before slipping them in his pocket. The numbers were there. As he walked out the door, this story’s bet was placed.