Fortune Cookie Has Got Their Numbers

Jacquelyn Garrett, with lottery representative Sidney Chambers, was among 110 people with winning tickets.
Jacquelyn Garrett, with lottery representative Sidney Chambers, was among 110 people with winning tickets. (Tennessee Education Lottery)
By Michelle Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 12, 2005

NEW YORK, May 11 -- "All the preparation you've done will finally be paying off," read the fortune in Jacquelyn W. Garrett's cookie. The prophecy caught her eye, but it was the numbers stretched across the slip of paper that paid off for her. She played them in the Powerball lottery and won second prize.

She was not alone -- an additional 109 people used the same series of numbers to become second-prize Powerball winners in the March 30 drawing.

"We expected four or five and ended up with 110," Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, said Wednesday. "That's well beyond the realm of normal possibilities."

Lottery officials at first suspected a scam or maybe a computer glitch. They did not suspect fortune cookies that would lead to the payout of, well, a fortune. But there they were: winners in 26 of the 29 states with the lotteries, each bearing the same number series -- 22, 28, 32, 33, 39, 40.

Depending on the bet, each winner raked in between $100,000 and $500,000 -- costing the lottery association nearly $19 million it had not counted on paying out. It made for an expensive night for Powerball, with winners beating the odds in a game with a 1 in 3 million winning combination.

If the winners had chosen 42 instead of 40, they would have struck the $25 million jackpot. "It actually would have been better for us," said Strutt, explaining that jackpots are divided among the winners.

Garrett said she got her fortune cookie at her favorite Chinese restaurant in suburban Nashville. "I didn't recognize the numbers would mean anything," said Garrett, a schoolteacher. "I was just interested in the fact that this was something positive to me."

Lottery officials followed the fortune cookie trail, locating the distributor and then narrowing down the cookie makers to three possibilities. The New York Times on Wednesday identified the fortune cookie factory as Wonton Food, a Queens-based company that cranks out 4 million cookies a day.

Derrick Wong, a sales executive at Wonton Food, said the company started printing lottery numbers on fortunes 10 years ago, to distinguish itself from competitors. Numbers are randomly chosen from a big bowl, lottery style, he said.

"It's not magic. It's [a] pretty traditional way," Wong said. "Those people are very, very lucky."

Wonton Food updates the prophecies every few months, and next time, Wong said, it will add more variety to the number combinations.

"I think that more people are asking for fortune cookies now. Now more people will want to get a piece of the pie," he said. "That's my prediction."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company