Column: I’ll never win the Powerball, but my dad nearly did


I saw my dad for the first time after he narrowly missed winning a $200 million Powerball lottery on the day before my sister’s wedding. Most of my family had already arrived in Montauk to kick off the festivities, so I knew he must have recounted the depressing story 100 times already.

I hesitated about asking. Should I leave it alone?

I tried to play it cool, to not pour salt in the wound. But eventually I had to ask.

On a picturesque Friday afternoon in June 2011, we sat outside my sister’s room at Montauk Manor overlooking the water when I mustered the strength to bring up my dad’s lack of newfound fortune. He could only look down and shake his head.

Two days earlier, 20 of his coworkers at Costco in Melville rejoiced after a shared ticket hit the jackpot. The winning combination of 8, 18, 38, 46 and 56 struck with the Powerball number of 31.

Just like that, 20 people ranging in age from 24 to 73 were millionaires.

My dad was not.

As he explained, he’d previously contributed a few bucks when a co-worker organized the store’s lottery entry. Eventually he backed out, but on the condition that when the jackpot surpassed $200 million, he wanted to be included.

On that particular day, for whatever reason, when the money got collected, no one remembered to ask my dad. The jackpot stood at $201.9 million. At a stationery store in Lindenhurst, an employee bought the ticket that would forever change their lives.

Two weeks after the drawing, the 20 winners posed with the New York Lottery’s Yolanda Vega behind a truck with the Costco logo in the background, each holding up a large check to commemorate their winnings as photographers snapped away.

Each person had the chance to receive a lump sum of $3.2 million.

I’ve never been much of a lottery player. I’m well aware of the staggering odds against winning a gargantuan pile of dough like the current $1.5 billion Powerball that someone may win Wednesday night.

I can’t help but think back to my dad’s story now when I debate whether to buy tickets. On one hand, the odds of all five white balls hitting, plus the red Powerball, are so incredibly slim, I may as well go outside and light a few dollar bills on fire. As a headline on a New York Times story flatly stated Tuesday: “You Will Not Win the Powerball Jackpot.” On the other hand, how could I not try?

A dollar and a dream.

As most people have done over the past two weeks, I’ve allowed myself a brief window to dream of what life might be like with a net worth equivalent to Beyoncé’s.

At 31, I’m too young to simply retire. I’d have to do something in addition to lavish trips around the world, midday cocktails by the pool and parties in Vegas. After all, money can’t cure hangovers.

I like to think I could spend a lot of time writing. Maybe a book. Maybe just as a freelancer where I could develop in-depth features. Maybe just as a stringer for this paper, covering an occasional boys basketball game, using only the finest pen on the market to take notes, of course.

Winning the lottery can be a curse, as many stories go. I think I could manage just fine.

I still wouldn’t be rich enough to buy a sports team (maybe the Arizona Coyotes, but I’ll pass on living in the desert) so I’d scoop up season tickets for all my sports teams. I could kill a lot of time hanging out at Madison Square Garden and Citi Field. I’d buy a house on the North Fork, one of those Dream Homes you see on with a wraparound porch on the first and second floors. Maybe add an apartment in the city to avoid late-night train rides home.

With a vast fortune at my disposal, I’d undoubtedly give plenty away. Sorting out which charitable donations to make could become a job in itself, I suppose.

I asked my dad this week how many of those Costco employees are still working. He said about half of them. I asked him if he had his tickets for Wednesday’s drawing and he responded, “Yep! $1.5 billion!”

Maybe, against all odds, he’ll have the last laugh after all.

Joe_Werkmeister_2012.jpgThe author is the managing editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8049.