I am taking a hiatus from this column until sometime later this year in order to complete a book. Our editors will publish a favorite column once a month. This one is from November 2000.
“Anybody got any change?”
Someone is always asking that question when needing a coin to scratch off a newly purchased lottery ticket. For an investment of $1, the “scratch-offs” provide a cheap thrill. You feel your heart beating just a little faster in anticipation of becoming an instant winner—cashing a big one. The odds are against you, but don’t tell that to the young lady who became an instant winner of a prize to last a lifetime.
A little over a year ago, the lady in question was having lunch at Chicago’s Sears Tower with her boyfriend, Matt Burnett. They had met at Indiana University and had been dating for four years. The couple regularly played the Illinois Instant Lottery games together, so she wasn’t surprised when he presented her a handful of lottery tickets. Much to her astonishment, she scratched off one of the lottery’s new Double 21 instant games revealing that she had won a mystery prize. The back of the ticket listed the odds of winning the mystery prize at one-million-to-one.
Nervously following the instructions on the ticket, she called the lottery’s public information office in Springfield, which confirmed the ticket’s winning status. She was also informed she was the first mystery-prize winner. She was instructed to proceed immediately to the Chicago lottery office to attend a press conference and claim her mystery prize.
When the couple arrived at the office, the lottery director followed the usual procedures for large prize redemptions. After signing releases and IRS forms, the young lady was ushered into a conference room at the lottery office packed with representatives from newspapers and television and radio stations.
The lottery director presented her with the mystery prize, a Las Vegas vacation package, which included air fare and hotel accommodations. The young lady instantly used skills acquired at IU’s Kelley School of Business to mentally calculate the approximate value of the prize ($1 ,000) and compare it to the million-to-one odds of winning. Something wasn’t adding up. She had expected at least a trip for two around the world. The lucky winner tried not to show her disappointment.
What she didn’t know was that for six months Burnett had been conspiring with the Illinois Lottery to create an instant ticket he could use to surprise her with a public marriage proposal. The lottery was a willing partner in this amorous ambush and brought the media in on the hoax.
The lottery director then announced a special prize for the first winner. Burnett was enlisted to help unwrap a large, artfully decorated box. The box was opened and yielded a much smaller box from which Burnett withdrew an engagement ring. Down on one knee, he proposed with all cameras rolling.
The parents, who had been secretly viewing the proceedings via closed-circuit TV from the next room, then joined the couple. The actual press conference that followed produced coverage that made the couple the talk of Chicago.
The huge amount of interest created in Chicago led to an appearance two days later in New York on “The Today Show” with Ann Curry.
The young lady accepted the proposal and was married to her prize, Matt Burnett (a one-in-a-million kind of guy), on Nov. 11 in a lavish wedding that only her mother could plan and execute. I’m hoping to win the lottery to pay for the affair. I’m her father.
“Anybody got any change?”
Update: Janie and I are the real lottery winners here. We are blessed with three grandchildren from this union, Tyler, Cameron and Annie. •
Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to email@example.com.