Outrageous: Winning a Jackpot, Facing the Ultimate Loss

11 February, 2007

Published: February 11, 2007

NAPLES, N.Y., Feb. 5 — Wayne A. Schenk figured that someday he might get lung cancer.

His parents both died of the disease, and Mr. Schenk, 51, increased the odds with a pack-a-day smoking habit.

Sure enough, after visiting a doctor in mid-December for a sore neck, he learned that a tumor was pressing on his nerves. “I was kind of devastated,” he said.

With treatment, Mr. Schenk might live 12 to 16 months, the doctors told him. Four weeks later, just as he had ended radiation and was about to begin chemotherapy, he and a close friend, Domonick R. Gallo, spent an afternoon playing the lottery with scratch-off tickets.

“We were driving and I’d scratch one off and holler, ‘I’m a loser,’ ” he said, smiling at the memory as he and Mr. Gallo took turns describing what happened.

Then Mr. Gallo said his friend looked at the next ticket and said: “Oh, look at that. I’m a winner. What’s the jackpot?”

It was $1 million.

The odds of someone Mr. Schenk’s age developing lung cancer are roughly one in 5,000; the odds of winning the jackpot in the $5 game of High Stakes Blackjack, as he did, are one in 2,646,000.

Now Mr. Schenk, a Marine Corps veteran, hopes to spend his lottery winnings, which come to $34,000 a year after taxes over 20 years, on medical care. But it is not that easy — getting a lump sum payment of his winnings is not an option with this type of game.

article continued at The New York Times

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