January 21, 2009
The Illinois Lottery officially started a new promotion with the Chicago Blackhawks last Wednesday: One adult fan would be randomly chosen at each home game, and if the Blackhawks scored at exactly the 10-minute mark of the second period -- not a second over or under -- then that fan would win $1 million.
Just five days later, someone sitting in Section 326 had already hit the jackpot.
Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom surrendered his only goal, in Monday night's 40-save performance at the Blackhawks, to winger Martin Havlat at 10:00 of the second period. (The video of the goal is around the 1:50 mark of this clip; as you'll see, the timing was close.)
"We were only three games into it," said Paul Arnell, director of promotions for the lottery. "And it had to happen on Obama eve. But it's been great."
The winning fan, from the Chicago area, met with Havlat after the game. He'll be revealed to the media and honored at tonight's Blackhawks game at home against the St. Louis Blues. (UPDATE: 8:15 p.m.: Cary Stolarczyk, a first-year season ticket holder in Sect. 326, was revealed as the winner this evening.)
What are the odds of this incredible scenario playing out for a hockey fan? More importantly: How does the Illinois Lottery react to giving away a million dollars less than a week into its promotion with the Blackhawks?
Darren Rovell of CNBC looked into the probability of a fan winning this lottery promotion; as a point of reference, there is a 1-in-10,179,260 chance that a lottery player will hit all six numbers in the traditional Illinois lotto drawing.
Since the odds of this happening seemed so low, we called the folks at US Hole In One, an insurance company that specializes in insuring these types of contests to give us an estimate as to how likely this was to actually happen.
Greg Esterhai of US Hole In One says the odds of a player scoring a goal at any second in any game is about 1 in 1,000. But Esterhai says that since the promotion is a season-long promotion, the odds go down to about a 1 in 25 chance. He said that this makes the goal promotion more likely to happen over the course of a season than a fan hitting a full court shot in any particular game, which is about a 1 in 50 chance.
So maybe it's not such an incredible scenario after all. Arnell said that the lottery didn't anticipate this jackpot being paid out so quickly, but that "working for the lottery, anything can happen. We meet winners all the time."
He said the promotion began last week after the lottery and the team worked out the details.
"The idea evolved out of a back and forth we were having with the Blackhawks. We were talking about become partners this year, and coming up with an interesting promotion," he said.
"Between the brainstorming sessions, we kind of landed at that. I'm not sure if the 10-minute mark was suggested because it's the halfway mark of the game; but I guess one could say that."
Does he think there's a chance that the players were conscious about the promotion; that perhaps, in the conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories, Backstrom was aware he was about to earn someone a million?
"No, no," Arnell said with a laugh, "it's certainly a funny prospect, but I don't think there's anything to it."
The question now becomes whether there's going to be anything to the "Illinois Lottery Million Dollar Minute Promotion" for the rest of the season.
The contest won't be held for tonight's game, as Arnell said the introduction of the winner will take the place of the promotion. The Blackhawks won't play again in Chicago until Feb. 14 against the Dallas Stars, and Arnell said the lottery is keeping its options open.
"We're evaluating the existing promotion with the Hawks now, about what parts of it we want to keep and what parts we want to change," he said. "I don't think [the win] discourages the partnership at all. If anything it would encourage it."
Who knows what they'll come up with next. Give the Illinois Lottery credit for ingenuity: It's currently holding a statewide "rock, paper, scissors" contest in conjunction with a new scratch-off game, in which competitors can win $500 for "scissors beat paper." No word if the "dynamite" wild card will be allowed.