Four-time win­ner knows num­bers, val­ues her pri­vacy

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO &STATE - By Paul J. We­ber

BISHOP — The odds that Joan Ginther would hit four Texas Lot­tery jack­pots for a com­bined $21 mil­lion are as­tro­nom­i­cal. Math­e­mati­cians say the chances are as slim as 1 in 18 sep­til­lion — that’s 18 and 24 zeros.

Just as un­likely? Get­ting to know one of the luck­i­est women in the world.

“She wants her pri­vacy,” friend Cris Car­mona said.

On a $50 scratch-off ticket bought in this ru­ral farm­ing com­mu­nity, Ginther won $10 mil­lion last month in her biggest wind­fall yet. But it was the fourth win­ning ticket in Texas for the 63-year-old for­mer col­lege pro­fes­sor since 1993, when Ginther split an $11 mil­lion jack­pot and be­came the most fa­mous na­tive in the his­tory of Bishop, about 25 miles south­west of Cor­pus Christi.

But she’s a celebrity whom few in this town of 3,300 peo­ple can say much about.

“That lady is pretty much scarce to ev­ery­body,” said Lu­cas Ray Cruz, Ginther’s for­mer neigh­bor. “That’s just the way she is.”

At the Times Mar­ket where Ginther bought her last two win­ning tick­ets, the high­way

gas sta­tion is fast be­com­ing a pil­grim­age for lot­tery losers. Lines stretch deep past a $5.98 bin of Mex­i­can movie DVDs, and a woman from Rhode Is­land called last week ask­ing to buy tick­ets from the charmed store through the mail.

She was told that was il­le­gal. The woman called back to plead again, any­way.

The Texas Lot­tery Com­mis­sion has seen re­peat win­ners be­fore but none on the scale of Ginther. Spokesman Bobby Heith said the agency has never in­ves­ti­gated Ginther’s win­nings — three scratch-off tick­ets and one lot­tery draw — for pos­si­ble fraud but de­scribed the ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem as thor­ough.

So how did Ginther do it, then?

Good luck pin­ning her down to ask.

Ginther has never spo­ken pub­licly about her lotto win­nings and could not be found for com­ment. She now lives in Las Ve­gas af­ter mov­ing away from Bishop, and an an­swer­ing ma­chine mes­sage for a tele­phone num­ber listed at her ad­dress says not to leave a mes­sage.

She asked the few peo­ple who’ve ex­changed more than brief pleas­antries with her not to grant in­ter­views and sneaked into lot­tery head­quar­ters in Austin to col­lect her win­nings with the least pub­lic­ity the state of­fers jack­pot win­ners.

But spend a few hours in her home­town — and equal time scour­ing pub­lic records — and a con­trast­ing pro­file emerges.

Her home ad­dress in Las Ve­gas is on a street called Par­adise Drive. When USA To­day asked read­ers in 2000 to sound off on air­line ser­vice, Ginther groaned over a flight at­ten­dant who carted away her cheese and crack­ers and a sun­dae too soon. Two years later, she grum­bled to the Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal about a pro­posed mono­rail run­ning through her ex­clu­sive con­do­minium tow­ers.

“I moved here be­cause I wanted to have a beau­ti­ful home with a great view, and that’s what I have. I didn’t ex­pect to have a mono­rail come down here with thou­sands of tourists ev­ery day,” Ginther told the news­pa­per, in what might have been the only time she was di­rectly quoted in the me­dia.

Bishop res­i­dents may not know much about Ginther — but they know that’s not her.

Here around the cot­ton farms and boarded-up down­town, Ginther, who over the years reg­u­larly vis­ited the town to see her fa­ther who died in 2007, is called benev­o­lent as much as she’s called lucky. They say she bought the church a van and gave money to the fam­ily that runs the Days Inn off the high­way. When she moved, she do­nated her home to char­ity.

Sun Bae, who owns the Time Mar­ket and sold Ginther her last two win­ning tick­ets, said she drives around in a bland Nis­san sedan but once bought a nicer car for some­one down on their luck. Bae said Ginther doesn’t even own a cell phone.

“She is a very gen­er­ous woman. She’s helped so many peo­ple,” Bae said.

Cal­cu­lat­ing the ac­tual odds of Ginther hit­ting four mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar lot­tery jack­pots is tricky. If Ginther’s win­ning tick­ets were the only four she ever bought, the odds would be one in 18 sep­til­lion, ac­cord­ing to Sandy Nor­man and Ed­uardo Duenez, math pro­fes­sors at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at San An­to­nio.

Ex­actly how of­ten Ginther plays is un­known. But Nor­man and Duenez said that a ha­bit­ual player win­ning four times over a 17-year span is much less far-fetched.

Af­ter all, the only way to win is to keep play­ing. Ginther is smart enough to know that’s how you beat the odds: She earned her doc­tor­ate from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity in 1976, then spent a decade on fac­ulty at sev­eral Cal­i­for­nia col­leges.

Teach­ing math.

Steve Nuren­berg AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sun Bae, owner of the Times Mar­ket in Bishop, sells lot­tery tick­ets to Frank Gu­tier­rez. Bae also sold four-time lot­tery win­ner Joan Ginther her two most re­cent win­ning tick­ets.

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