Say you’re a federal worker awaiting back-pay, or a Chinese finance minister anxious about a trillion Treasury bills or so. You’re concerned about cash. So, putting the odds aside, you buy a lottery ticket in Washington, D.C. – because someone has to have some luck, right?
Even good fortune has been furloughed in the nation’s capital. The Washington lottery has stopped paying winners until the government reopens. Though the lottery funds itself through ticket sales -- no tax-payer money involved -- the act of giving people their prize money requires federal authorization.
In the words of one Facebook commenter official D.C. Lottery page, “I can buy a ticket [and] get lucky enough to win but now I can't get paid...hell to the knaw.”
Ticket sales and drawings have continued as usual -- thanks to a requirement in D.C. municipal law -- but payouts over $600 in value stopped as early as Thursday, according to local reports. All other payouts ended last Saturday.
Even the D.C. Lottery is unhappy, according to Buddy Roogow, executive director of the D.C. Lottery.
"I hate this," says Roogow. "As director of the lottery, the last thing I want to do is not pay prizes."
The D.C. Lottery says it has "tried its best" to let players and retailers know that payments would be delayed, but Roogaw admits some lottery purchasers may be unaware.
Amit Sharma, who sells lottery tickets at a store on DuPont Circle, says at least four customers have come in with winning tickets he could not redeem:
Most buyers, however, seem to have gotten the message -- they’ve stopped buying tickets at all. Even if the government reopens tomorrow, the only city-wide lottery in the U.S. will still have to make up for its missed payments, monetary and otherwise.
"In 4 days we estimate that sales are down 45 percent from where they were the previous week, when everything was more or less normal," Roogow says. "To be very honest with you, I recognize how frustrated players must be. Since I came here four years ago, we’ve tried very hard to build a brand that's enterprising and entrepreneurial and metropolitan, encouraging people to play here instead of in just Maryland or Virginia. We’ve had some success. I’d hate to lose all that."
Social media anger has quieted some since the announcement on Saturday, and the lottery's PR team has been reassuring customers that payments will resume shortly thereafter. Sharma says his customers have not blamed him for the delay, and he doesn't think they blame lottery either.
“People in D.C., I mean, at this point they know what’s going on. They’ve come to expect it. They know who to be mad at," Sharma says.
Rumor control: DC Lottery will honor ALL winning tickets when the shutdown ends. Please sign and store your ticket.
— DC Lottery (@DCLottery) October 11, 2013
With fewer tickets being sold, will those still playing have better odds?
No luck there either, Roodgrow says.
"I think that’s a common belief, but the odds are always the same. Think of it this way: If you have five numbers that you’re choosing from, and you’re choosing one of those numbers, your odds are always 1 in 5," he said. "The probability doesn’t change based on number of people playing. It’s always the same chance."