Mystery Winner Spurs New Contest

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If you've checked your Powerball lottery ticket -- again and again -- and you are definitely not the winner of last week's $144 million jackpot, it's still possible to play.

But not like that.

The winner of the multistate game, which had the largest jackpot in D.C. lottery history, has yet to come forward to claim the prize, and Washington can't stop buzzing about who it could be. So the lottery folks, knowing how to take advantage of buzz when they see it, created a game that's all about another game.

That's right: "Guess the Winner" is an online contest on the D.C. Lottery Web site that asks players whether they think the winner is a seasoned D.C. lottery player, an occasional player or a newbie, among other things.

Like Mark Twain's Jim Smiley, the fictional hero who never met a person, place or thing that he couldn't turn into a bet, lottery diehards can keep on playing.

"We're all on pins and needles for the winner to come forward," said Athena Hernandez, spokeswoman for the D.C. Lottery. "So this keeps up the enthusiasm for the game, keeps the public involved with this win."

The winning ticket was sold sometime last week at the Giant Food on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington. The winning Powerball numbers were picked Wednesday night, and first thing Thursday morning, Hernandez and her team raced to the grocery store, wondering whether they would get to meet the winner.

They waited and waited, camera in hand, banner draped across the store and balloon bouquet bobbing in the wind. But not a word.

So speculation about the winner and the fantasy of what would happen if you won turned into the Washington area's weekend parlor game. Already, 150 people have played the online version, Hernandez said.

They can take a stab at questions such as:

Is the new multimillionaire a D.C. resident? Virginia? Maryland? Other?

Were the $144 million numbers their own or was it a quick pick?

Is it an individual or a group?

The final question, the one that will truly separate a real winner from dabblers, asks, "How much was the wager on the ticket?"

The grand prize for this little game isn't a cut of the winnings. Or cash.

The winner or winners get to attend the announcement party once the Powerball winner comes forward.

And they get a gift basket with D.C. Lottery T-shirts, mugs, bags and, of course, more lottery tickets.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company