September was one lucky month for a single dad from Schuylkill County.
Randy Rittenbaugh of Pine Grove won not one, but two top prizes. First, he snagged $60,000 in the Pennsylvania Lottery's Money Comb instant game. Then he hit a Cash 5 jackpot worth $1,201,763.
Ch-ching. Going with the daughter to DisneyWorld, he told lottery officials.
Of course, there followed the predictable report that the "nearly impossible" odds of this happening were about 1 chance in 462 billion.
Wow, sounds like this almost never happens.
Actually, such reoccurrences are somewhat common.
Last month, the same set of seven numbers came up twice in the Israeli lottery.
Earlier this year, a Texas woman, who once won a jackpot drawing, won her third big scratch-off prize. Yup, she won four times. Total take: about $21 million.
Last year, North Carolina farmer Billy Doby, who won $10,000 the year before, played a $20 scratch-off game and won $3 million.
In January 2005, Donna Goeppert, 55, of Bethlehem, Pa., won $1 million playing the $1 Million Blockbuster instant game - then did it again that June.
In publicizing her win, state officials pointed out that over a 12-year period, a Carbon County man won four jackpots worth a sum of $3 million.
Also in 1985, Keith Selix, 81, of Waterloo, Iowa, won three scratch-off prizes totalling a lot less - $81,000. But at least he offered an explanation: He had help from the spirit of his recently departed wife.
In 2002, Angelo and Maria Gallina, of Belmont, Calif., won twice in a single day. After winning $126,000 in a playing Fantasy Five, they hit for $17 million in SuperLotto.
And this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Yet, in the California case, the odds were put at 1 in 24 trillion, which sounds as if it shouldn't have happened.
Except it did. And does.
Part of the explanation lies in confusion created by words like anyone or someone.
What are the chances of anyone winning the next Cash 5 jackpot?
Well, if you mean any individual person - you or me or John Jingleheimer Smith - who buys a single ticket, the odds are 1 in nearly 1 million.
But if you mean anyone anywhere ever, the odds are certain. No "wow" at all. Each jackpot eventually gets won.
Now, consider the case of the double winner. What are the chances of anyone winning twice?
For you or the next guy to replicate Randy Rittenbaugh's feat by buying exactly two tickets - emphasis on exactly two - the odds are 1 in 462 billion.
But for something like it to ever happen anywhere, the probability is far more likely. Tens of millions of Americans have played thousands of lotteries games over thousands of days, and millions of those players may have each bought hundreds if not thousands of tickets - not just two.
That winning California couple estimated to have spent $124,000 on lottery tickets over the years.
(If you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-522-4700.)
So yes, Rittenbaugh beat astronomical odds.
But considering the galactical gaggle of players and tickets being sold, two-time winners are to be expected.
Just in Pennsylvania last year, the number of "plays" was nearly 1.7 billion, according to state lottery spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis.
Finally, for the doubters in the crowd, let's not forget the possibility that occasionally someone comes along who figures out an edge.
Let's leave aside psychics and ideas about games getting rigged. Officials have been hyper-vigilant about security since some early scandals, like the 1980 Tiple Six Fix in Pennsylvania that inspired the 2000 film Lucky Numbers.
Australia's Terry Fisher, who reportedly won more than $1 million twice, advertises a book online that promises to share a system that greatly improves the odds of winning. Experts, though, are highly skeptical of such claims.
Consider, too, whether Joan Ginther, Texas' four-time winner, is very lucky or very smart. She's a Stanford-educated math professor, and Texas might be an ideal place to find an edge. The state lottery website keeps up-to-date about which prizes remain in its scratchoff games. What's to stop a patient player from waiting till a game is almost sold out but most of its top prizes remain? The odds would be much more favorable. Further, just suppose, if you're rich from previous wins, you can afford to buy up all the tickets you can find, knowing you'll win all sorts of lesser prizes along the way, greatly hedging your risk.
She's never granted interviews, so nobody knows if she light-years ahead of other players in dealing with those astronomical odds.