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Is the Powerball rigged?

A bevy of conspiracy theories abound about the Powerball. Fueling them is the fact that it really was rigged.

What does the moon landing have to do with the Powerball? Maybe nothing. (Photo: El Paso Times photo)

Story Highlights

  • You probably won’t win the Powerball
  • But it’s OK
  • Because it may be rigged

By now, it’s probably pretty clear that you are not going to win the gazillion dollar Powerball lottery and be able to fulfill your fantasy of buying Comcast and firing every single customer service person you’ve spent hours speaking to trying to figure out why your television keeps telling you to call them.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped a lot of the media experts from taking to the airwaves to give advice on what to do if you wake up one day – say sometime this week after Wednesday night’s $1.5 billion drawing – on your way to being as rich as Donald Trump. They all offer sage recommendations on what to do with the money, mostly smart investments, or hiring a lawyer who, you pray, won’t steal half of it, or making arrangements to keep everybody who wants to glom onto your good luck at bay by moving to Costa Rica.

Nor has it stopped the media from asking people how they would spend the money should they awake to being an instant member of the 1-percent club.

Most of those have been pretty predictable. Pay off the house. Buy a house. Keep creditors at bay. A lot of people said they would keep working, although with an even more lackadaisical attitude than normal.

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Nor has it stopped experts from telling you how to make sure you will win the fortune. Some guy who published a book on how to win the lottery went on Fox News to tell viewers to buy “every lottery ticket you can afford,” which is good advice if your cognitive skills are somewhere below that of a starfish and ignores the fact that lotteries exploit people’s economic insecurity and despair and prey upon those are who least able to afford it to blow the grocery money on Powerball tickets.

Still, after the numbers were drawn, the odds are you’d still have to go to work and you’d still owe your soul to the company store.

The reason is simple — the odds are stacked against you.

Or perhaps you’re thinking that the Powerball is rigged and that you are merely a victim of a vast conspiracy that traces its roots to the dawn of civilization. Or something like that.

Of course, you’re thinking, that couldn’t happen. There have to be a lot of safeguards.

But in this era when conspiracy theories are treated with more reverence than facts, it seems like a popular view among a lot of people, joining Obama wants to take your guns, the moon landing was faked and Stevie Wonder really isn’t blind in the pantheon of conspiracies that prevent you from living a full and interesting life.

Yes, there are Powerball truthers, people who have taken to social media to inform the world that the real reason you haven’t won the lottery has nothing to do with the steep odds, akin to being struck by lightning while being in a plane crash and surviving intact, except for that twitch you have from being struck by lightning. It’s because of dark forces conspiring against you.

One such theory — reported by the website Heavy.com — is that the government rigs the Powerball to jack up jackpots so the IRS can collect more tax money and use that money to pay off the federal debt, or perhaps, as one theory posited, fund special black-bag operations that include something like taking over abandoned Walmarts in Texas to seize the state and make Texans stop saying “Y’all.”

That theory is perfect in a number of ways. It combines the paranoia that the government has the wherewithal to rig the lottery, with the suspicion that the feds are, in essence, some of kind of evil cabal dead set on controlling your thoughts. (I believe it also has something to do with mandatory seat belt laws and grazing fees in Wyoming. I could be wrong. )

Less sinister is the theory that the government is using the Powerball to stimulate the economy, which makes sense if you really don’t think about it. It’s not clear how spending a few dollars on a lottery ticket stimulates the economy, other than providing employment for convenience store clerks.

Yet another theory claims that the Powerball is rigged by something called the Illuminati, which is a secret cabal of Masons who have run the world since man was able to stand upright, that is when they aren’t dressing up like clowns and riding around in those little cars. Or is that Shriners? They’re easy to confuse.

Feeding the theories is the fact that the lottery has been rigged.

In 1980, a guy named Nick Perry, the Pennsylvania Lottery’s announcer, masterminded a scheme to rig the Daily Number, using weighted balls in the machines used to draw the numbers. The drawing resulted in the number 6-6-6 and Perry and his cohorts — and perhaps Satan himself — cashed in. They were caught — well, Satan wasn’t — and Perry wound up doing two years in Camp Hill.

And just recently, the Powerball has been rigged.

It’s a strange and convoluted story. It began with a winning ticket worth $16.5 million being drawn in Texas in December 2010. Later that year, a man from Canada came forward to claim the prize, as did a lawyer from New York who claimed to be representing a trust in Belize.

That kind of raised suspicions and, long story short, resulted in the security director for the Powerball’s governing body, a man named Edward Tipton, being charged with fraud. Tipton, prosecutors alleged, used self-destructing software he installed on Powerball computers to create the winning ticket. Tipton was convicted on two counts of fraud in July and sentenced to a decade in prison, the Washington Post reported.

So you may not have won a dump truck full of money.

But you’re still better off than that “winner.”

A bevy of conspiracy theories abound about the Powerball. Fueling them is the fact that it really was rigged.

Powerball Winner Says He’s Cursed

Jack Whittaker won a jackpot that changed his life, but not how he expected.

April 6, 2007 — — On Christmas morning in 2002, Jack Whittaker woke up to perhaps the biggest gift imaginable. Whittaker had won the Powerball lottery jackpot — a whopping $315 million.

“I got sick at my stomach, and I just was [at] a loss for words and advice,” Whittaker said. “You know, I was really searching for advice, and it’s, like, Christmas Day.”

It was a made-for-TV Christmas story, and Whittaker’s hardworking family became celebrities overnight. Whittaker’s wife, Jewel, and their granddaughter Brandi Bragg would appear on no fewer than eight television shows. But as Whittaker celebrated his good fortune, he had no way of knowing that he was embarking on a journey that would lead to tragedy and the loss of everything he held dear.

‘No Control for Greed’

Whittaker now says that he regrets winning the lottery.

“Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” he said. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

Whittaker had the very best of intentions: He truly wanted to share his good fortune and help people.

“I wanted to build churches,” he said. “I wanted to get people food that didn’t have food. I wanted to provide clothing for children that needed clothing.”

Within months, Whittaker was making good on his promise. He handed over $15 million for the construction of two churches alone.

The initial blitz of publicity meant that everyone knew about Whittaker’s record-breaking win, and he was besieged by requests for help. In order to deal with these requests, he formed the Jack Whittaker Foundation. Jill, the clerk who sold him his winning ticket, went to work for him in the mailroom.

“There were so many letters that they wouldn’t even deliver the mail. It was nothing for us to sit for 10 hours just opening envelopes,” said Jill, who asked that her last name be kept private.

Jill says the foundation received all kinds of requests, such as, “people wanting new carpet, people wanting entertainment systems, people wanting Hummers, people wanting houses — just absolutely bizarre things.”

Whittaker gave away at least $50 million worth of houses, cars and cash. Suddenly, the man who won a fortune at Christmas had become everybody’s Santa Claus.

“Any place that I would go they would come up,” he said. “I mean, we went to a ballgame, a basketball game … and we must have had 150 people come up to us … and it would be going right back to asking for money.”

Humble Beginnings

For a man who didn’t start out with much, the experience was a bit overwhelming. “I grew up very, very poor in Jumping Branch, W.Va.,” said Whittaker. “We never had a lot of luxuries. We never had a car. We didn’t have a TV until later in life.”

At the age of 14, Whittaker met the woman who would become his wife, and started his own construction company. Whittaker said it was the birth of his granddaughter that finally changed his obsession with work.

“I was with my daughter going to her doctor’s visits,” he said. “And Brandi waved at me on the first sonogram, so I was hooked then.”

By the time Whittaker won the lottery, he said, he was doing $16 million to $17 million worth of work. He enjoyed years of success with few complaints, but less than a year after winning the lottery things began to change.

Rob Dunlap, one of Whittaker’s many attorneys, said Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits.

“I’ve had over 400 legal claims made on me or one of my companies since I’ve won the lottery, ” said Whittaker.

When asked why that might happen, Whittaker said it’s because “everybody wants something for nothing.”

‘I Just Didn’t Care’

As his company’s reputation was challenged by lawsuits, Whittaker began drinking heavily to console himself. At night, he made the rounds of the local bars throwing money around everywhere he went.

“I just got to the point that I just couldn’t tolerate what was happening to me anymore,” he said. “I would fly off the handle and if somebody wanted to fight me, I’d fight them. I just didn’t care.”

Whittaker alienated just about everyone in town, and things came to a head when he left his car running in front of the Pink Pony strip club and more than $2,000 in cash was stolen.

“I parked my car in the middle of the driveway, I went in to get me a drink to go, and I was drugged and my briefcase was stolen,” Whittaker said.

The money was recovered, but the luckiest man in West Virginia was left friendless and lonely. It seemed as if everyone still wanted a piece of his winnings, but the one person Whittaker was determined to share every moment of his good fortune with was his granddaughter.

“What I really enjoyed the most was … watching Brandi enjoy it,” he said.

Whittaker bought and decorated an elaborate home for Bragg and her mother that included a perfect recreation of the bottle from the 1960’s TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” He also gave Brandi about $2,000 a week and bought her four new cars. Whittaker said while Bragg was only 17 years old at the time, she was very responsible with her money.

“To a young kid cars mean a lot,” Whittaker said. “She had four cars and I’m very proud that she had four cars.”

Downward Spiral

According to her friends, Bragg’s cars and cash began to attract the attention of some “bad people,” including drug dealers.

Whittaker said, “She was bitter because she had lost some of her friends, I mean the drug dealers, just ganged up on her because of me.”

Bragg started to use illegal drugs. Whittaker repeatedly tried to get her help and sent her to several treatment programs, but she couldn’t stay clean.

“She doesn’t want to be in charge of the money; she doesn’t want to inherit the money; she just looks for her next drugs,” Whittaker said. “She said, ‘Pawpaw, all I care about is drugs.’ It broke my heart.”

Bragg’s friend Jessie Tribble was a drug user too. In September 2003, Tribble was found dead of a drug overdose in a house owned by Whittaker. Tribble’s father believes that his son might be alive today if he hadn’t had access to Bragg and her weekly allowance.

“I’m going to say this with total conviction. I blame her for my son’s death. I hold her accountable,” he said.

Whittaker doesn’t feel responsible for Tribble’s death.

“The house was closed down,” he said. “They didn’t have permission to be in my house.”

The Powerball Curse?

Almost two years after Whittaker hit the jackpot, Bragg disappeared. After a frantic two-week search, on Dec. 20, 2004, she was found dead, wrapped in a plastic sheet, dumped behind a junked van. The cause of death was listed as unknown. Whittaker believes that the Powerball win had become a curse upon his family.

“My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said.

“She was the shining star of my life, and she was what it was all about for me,” he said. “From the day she was born, it was all about providing, and protecting, and taking care of her. You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too.”

Whittaker believes that money isn’t what makes people happy — family is.

“Family is what is dear,” he said. “I don’t know where it’ll end. But you know, I just don’t like Jack Whittaker. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I’ve become.”

Powerball Winner Says He’s Cursed Jack Whittaker won a jackpot that changed his life, but not how he expected. April 6, 2007 — — On Christmas morning in 2002, Jack Whittaker woke up to