A week ago at this time, the Mega Millions lottery jackpot stood at $636 million. The number of people lining up to buy tickets was equally staggering. At one location, the line of ticket buyers actually stretched from one state into another. (The location was right on the California/Nevada border.) As has happened before, legions stepped up to buy more tickets as weeks passed without a jackpot winner being called. As if $450 million the week prior wasn't enough, and only winning over $600 million justifies buying a ticket. Really?
I'm guessing it's because the jackpot number is always so astronomical people can't comprehend it. This goes for the odds of winning it as well. Mathematically, the odds for the lottery are 249 million to one against winning, meaning that if every one of the over 220 million 18-and-older adults in the U.S. stood in a group and a penny were dropped above them, it's entirely possible no one would be hit.
This doesn't matter to the eternally hopeful. People continue to defy the odds, buy tickets and make lunchtime plans as to how they will spend the money.
What if for the new year you could quantifiably improve your odds of winning a chunk of cash? What if, instead of 249 million to one, the odds shrink to 22,000 to one? OK ... that's anything but a sure winner but it beats the heck out of the alternative.
On top of all that, what if the ticket you purchased not only didn't lose value but stayed exactly the price you paid for it even after you didn't win? In other words, you couldn't lose. That's exactly what's happening right now. Here's how.
Readers may recall my writing about a new sheet of six $2 stamps for 2013, which reproduces the famous 24-cent Inverted Jenny biplane stamps issued in 1918. Not even one sheet of these original 100 stamps was ever found. The rarities became the thing dreams are made of and today, are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Some blocks of four 24-cent stamps are worth multiple millions of dollars.
The current $2 reproductions are being sold in sealed envelopes containing one sheet of six stamps for $12. You can't see inside the envelope. This is because inside 100 random envelopes are sheets of the six stamps with the image right side up — not inverted. That quantity of 100 has the same number of "errors" as the original stamps from 1918.
Collectors adore rarities. They also understand that value comes from two factors: rarity and demand. You need both. Here you have it. Collectors are eagerly seeking the noninverted sheets for good reason. One stamp company has announced it will automatically pay $25,000 for one sheet on the spot. There is surely more to come. My guess is the price will rise substantially over time.
So far, there has only been one winner. That's right. Just one sheet has been found. The finder wasn't quite sure what he had at the time but a card inside the envelope instructed him to call a number to claim his official signed certificate of authorization. He did this and is thrilled to not have used any of the stamps for postage. So, as of now, there are 99 more sheets waiting to be found.
But, again, remember the point I made earlier: There's no downside. Anyone who purchases an envelope of the six stamps for $12 can always use them. If they're not the rare, noninverted variety, they can be used to send a package, certified letter or parcel requiring more than First Class postage. So, unlike lottery tickets, which lose their value if they don't contain the right numbers, postage stamps will always be worth at least their face values.
One final plus: Unlike the lotteries that are not available in every state, these sheets of the stamps are being sold at larger local post offices nationwide, including in states that don't allow the lottery. In other words, everyone has an equal chance. Not a bad way to start the new year!
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the new and current NON-inverted $2 Jenny stamp sheet has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.