FORT WAYNE – Just after 6 p.m. Thursday, Glenn Gross could be found stuffing losing Hoosier Millionaire scratch-off lottery tickets into a barrel at Memorial Coliseum.
He’d driven nearly 200 miles from Oolitic to see the Hoosier Millionaire show in Fort Wayne, and he’d brought 50 worthless tickets with him in hopes that one with his name on it would be drawn and he’d be the sole person from the audience to make it onto the show.
Meanwhile, Joe Hoffer, who had driven two hours from Knox, was busy scratching off new Hoosier Millionaire tickets, hoping for a loser so he could enter the drawing, too. He kept getting winners.
But Gross acknowledged his odds were good, probably better than the odds of winning a huge prize in the scratch-off game. And if he wasn’t chosen, he planned to go to more Hoosier Millionaire shows.
His trip was worthwhile. Gross was picked to be on the show, but a guy named Rick Rhodes from Kokomo was luckier, winning $13,500 to qualify for a final Hoosier Millionaire showdown this summer.
The lottery is holding six shows around the state this year. People who have non-winning Hoosier Millionaire tickets can use them to register online to be on one of the shows. Five contestants are chosen that way for each show, but one contestant is always chosen from the audience.
The top winners from each show will compete for a $1 million top prize in a finale at the Indiana State Fair in August. It’s all part of the 25th anniversary of the Hoosier Lottery.
The first show, held in Evansville last month, drew about 400 spectators. Lottery officials estimated the Fort Wayne crowd was something more than 1,000, twice the size of Evansville’s, and as the show progressed, the crowd enthusiastically yelled, hoping to watch someone win big bucks.
Once the show got started, hosts worked the crowd, telling jokes and interviewing contestants as they slowly picked numbers on a big board, winning whatever amount of money was behind them.
Rhodes took the lead early and held onto it throughout the hour-long show to eventually win, but he went bust in a bonus round, missing out on a chance to win as much as an extra $16,000. He wasn’t disappointed, though.
I could have walked away with $1,500 and been tickled, he said. One of my wishes was always to be on the show.
He plans to donate a portion of his winnings to the Special Olympics in his hometown and make an even bigger gift if he wins big in Indianapolis this summer.
Meanwhile, Gross, who ultimately won $4,500, says he’s going to see the other Hoosier Millionaire shows, though he’s ineligible to be a contestant again.
He said he always watched the show on television – that ran from 1989 to 2005 – and enjoyed it.