Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nenana Ice Classic is longtime Alaskan lottery based on climate change

The winner of the Nenana Ice Classic is the one who guesses
the closest time/day when the tripod drops into the Tanana River.
Photo by James Brooks/Flickr

Alaska doesn’t have a state lottery, but it has something far more fun and unique than Powerball or MegaMillions. It has the Nenana Ice Classic.

Each year Alaskans try to guess the exact day, hour, and minute the Tanana River ice will break up in Nenana, Alaska. Seriously.

A black-and-white-striped tripod is placed 300 yards from shore near the Mears Memorial Bridge when the river freezes over in October or November. The tripod is attached by rope to a clock in a watchtower on shore, and when the ice melts (usually late April to early May) and the tripod falls into the river, the clock stops and the winner of the Nenana Ice Classic is determined.

More than $10 million in prize money has been awarded over the 98 years the odd lottery has been in existence.

The watch tower has the clock that is connected by a rope to the tripod
sitting on the frozen river. Photo by James Brooks/Flickr 

Tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic are $2.50 each and are sold throughout the state from February 1 to April 5. Last year’s jackpot was a record $363,627. It was divided among 25 winning tickets that guessed April 25 at 3:48 p.m. After taxes, each winner received $10,472.46, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Like lotteries in other states, people sometimes pool their money to try to win. Last year, 20 people from a financial firm each filled out 10 Nenana Ice Classic tickets, and it paid off with one guessing the right time.

“We do it every year and we laugh about it every year,” the firm’s president, Therese Sharp, told the News-Miner. “We always say, ‘We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win.’”

The Nenana Ice Classic originated in 1906 when Lee Oliver came closest out of six entries and won what was said to be the equivalent to a couple of rounds at the trading-post bar. It wasn’t until 1916 when the Nenana Ice Classic really started to take off, however.

A group of railroad engineers revived the ice betting pool, selling $801 worth of tickets to fellow workers and Nenana residents at Jimmy Duke’s Roadhouse. After word spread of the unique lottery, tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic were sold throughout Alaska and the Yukon territories in 1917, and it has grown into what it is today: a fun and unique lottery.

The tripod currently is still standing

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