July 28, 1998
Jim Lehrer and essayist Roger Rosenblatt discuss the frenzy over the Powerball lottery drawing.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight the power of Powerball. Kwame Holman begins.
KWAME HOLMAN: The long-awaited event took place in Iowa at one minute before 10 last night. Earlier drawings failed to produce a grand prize winner, driving the Powerball jackpot to some $250 million. It bounced to $296 million in the last few days as frenzied ticket buyers stood in hours' long lines for a shot at the enormous potential payoff, despite odds against winning of 80 million to one. This morning lottery officials said one winning ticket had been sold by this Speedway gas station in Richmond, Indiana. Powerball paid the shop owners $100,000 for selling the ticket. But the big payday apparently will go to 13 machine shop workers in Westerville, Ohio, who called themselves the Lucky 13. A stunned looking John Jarrell said someone from his group drove an hour to Indiana to buy 130 one-dollar tickets. One of them had the six correct numbers.
JOHN JARRELL, Powerball Jackpot Winner: You go from excited, fairly excited, to being scared to death. We talked to an attorney this morning and he put all this stuff up here, and you really get nervous and scared of what we got to do with all this--back and forth and excited and ready to go shopping-and get on with a normal life-and all you people leave us alone.
KWAME HOLMAN: The winners decided beforehand if they won they would take the $161 million lump sum payment and split it 13 ways. After taxes, each will receive about $7 ½ million. The increasingly popular Powerball lottery started as a way for smaller states to pool their resources and compete with large state lotteries, such as New York. In some cases this week traffic backed up for miles as people crossed borders to reach some of the 20 states and the District of Columbia, where the tickets were sold. Lottery officials expect to confirm last night's big winners tomorrow, when the ticket arrives by armored car in Indiana.
JIM LEHRER: Some thoughts now from essayist Roger Rosenblatt. Roger, what's this Powerball thing all about?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think there are three reasons that somebody does this-goes in for a ticket with 80 million to one odds. One is that however much fun it is, people always think that there's some cosmic lottery up there in which they are blessed, that their number, the good numbers are going to come up. Second is having to do with an American that part of the American dream is to be rich.
And this confounds you, confounds the country too, that it's good, it's almost American to be rich-not just rich but suddenly rich, so that you dig down in the earth and you find oil or you pan for gold and your poor one day and rich the next. Jim, I was driving up to Connecticut. Actually, I was driving further North in Connecticut, but I got caught in the traffic jam headed for Greenwich from New York, and it must have been like being caught in a herd of miners or prospectors. And the third one-and this becomes touching and sometimes sad-is people think their lives are going to be happier and the funny thing about all three reasons is that none of them is true.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. These 13-there have been stories about them all day today-and one of the stories I read said that, well, they were going to continue to work in the machine shop-at least some of them were-so changing one's life isn't really what it's about either, at least not for everybody.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, first, we've got to see whether they do what they say. But I would think it would be perfectly sensible to stay at one's job, because if we follow Freud, there are only two things that are important in life-love and work. And money isn't going to take the place of work.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. The Powerball-isn't it the same drive, though, that if somebody plays a slot machine, it is-it's in us all, one way or another, whether we act on it or not, right?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: That we do believe that lightning will strike and it will strike us well.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And it will strike us well, and that we somehow deserve it. And if there's a divine justice up there, we will profit from it.
JIM LEHRER: I had the same experience driving here in Washington Wednesday night. Traffic-people lined up outside grocery stores-small convenience stores-and I couldn't figure out what it was. I didn't know about the Powerball. Did you know what this was when you ran into in Connecticut?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: No. And I was driving in-I turned on the All News Radio station-and of course in my typical idiocy, I found myself by accident in this massive traffic jam and in New York a massive traffic jam is something to see.
JIM LEHRER: But people to stand in line for ten/fifteen hours for an 80 million to one odds situation-that's remarkable!
ROGER ROSENBLATT: It is, but I think it is really the same principle by which other Americans-inventors, for example-hit on the one thing to make them suddenly rich. There's something odd about this country. It's not just to be rich. Everyone wants to be rich. It's to be rich suddenly, as if you have been divinely blessed, that you deserve it in some way.
JIM LEHRER: You worked very hard and that didn't work to make you rich, so if you-if lightning strikes, that's fine. Did you buy a Powerball ticket?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: No, sir, I didn't. I've always felt that being on the NewsHour was riches enough.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, Roger, good night. Thank you very much.