Thursday, July 11, 1996
A fantasy of huge wealth for only $1

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Here's what I did on my summer vacation. I tried to win the Ohio Super Lotto.

A gambling gadfly, I remember to buy a ticket only when the money is really big, say $45 million. No doubt this annoys the true professionals.

These people invest large sums of money in carefully selected numbers based on a scientific formula including birthdays, addresses and anniversaries, plus the number of days they would show up for work after they win (zero).

Lottery regulars have their computer cards already filled out before they get to the pony keg. They usually have a big wad of money, lots of facial hair and a serious expression. They scare me.

They muttered and shuffled their feet when I asked the clerk to explain the term ''kicker.'' One of them twisted his kerchief into something that looked a lot like a noose after I changed my mind a couple of times about whether I wanted my winnings in a lump sum or installments.

A lottery seance

You might think, based on my performance, that I had no real system of my own. You would be wrong. My lucky numbers came directly from my late grandmother's bingo set. As I spun numbered balls out of the battered cage, I promised Grandma that a big chunk of my millions would go to the church.

Meanwhile, I dreamed.

By the way, I don't need to be told that Super Lotto winnings in the wrong hands can be dangerous. Remember the South Lebanon man who won $16 million last July? Among other things, he bought a new blue Corvette, which he later used to ram a police car. Another winner turned his hand to marijuana farming.

''If you've got problems before winning the lottery, you'll have problems after the lottery,'' says Fred Millard, a founder of the Winner's Club, an Ohio-based social group for lottery winners.

Exactly my point.

I would make an adorable millionaire.

Besides giving money to Grandma's church, I would fund important transportation studies, such as whether I would rather drive a beautifully restored 1964 Mustang convertible or a Jaguar XKE.

A large portion of my winnings would be spent on medical research, such as whether there's a health spa anywhere that can help you lose weight while you sleep. Or, even better, while you eat.

Part of the money would go to support vital public projects, such as a really knockout new house for me in a place where the public could see it, particularly those people who went to high school with me who believed I would end up in jail.

But this discussion is moot. Edward Hines of Austintown, in northeast Ohio, has my money. He will receive $1,185,576.93 every year for 26 years. Mr. Hines bought only two tickets and let the computer pick the numbers.

He sounds like a fellow dabbler. Like most people, I don't play the lottery every week, so I choose different numbers each time. If I had just one set of lucky numbers, I would be obliged to play them twice a week because if I didn't, and my numbers came up, I would have to kill myself.

The mystery of gambling

Like most people, I wait until the day of the drawing to place my bet. Experts say 70 percent of us do that. No one knows why. It's not like a horse race, when you can understand why somebody waits until post time to place a bet. You want to make sure your horse doesn't arrive at the gate on crutches. But I don't know why we all wait until the last minute to play the lottery.

To tell you the truth, I don't understand anything about it, including why I only get excited when it's $45 million or so. It's not as if I wouldn't be extremely grateful for the ordinary $4 million jackpot. (Are you listening, Grandma?)

But I like the lottery. Some of the money goes to schools. And the rest goes to the creation of instant millionaires. Until the Ping-Pong balls popped out Mr. Hines' numbers last Saturday, I was planning to hire Oprah's cook and wondering whether it would be extravagant to keep a home in Boston just to see Keith Lockhart.

For exactly 3 hours and 42 minutes and $1, I was a millionaire. All things considered, it was a pretty good investment.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.