Thu, May 03, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Drilling his own river ice pays off for Alaska man


A man bested more than 25,000 other entrants in a contest to see who could guess when the ice would give way on the Tanana River in the tiny community of Nenana, about 90km south of Fairbanks, Alaska.

This year’s jackpot was a record US$350,000. Of that, US$252,000 will go to Tommy Lee Waters after federal taxes, Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness said. Organizers announced the winner on Tuesday, but Waters will not receive his winnings until June 1.

Waters was the only person to correctly guess that a tripod set up on the river would tip over and stop the official clock at 7:39pm on April 23 — which happened to be his 55th birthday.

Waters, a mental health technician, has won in two other classics. However, he had to split the jackpot in those contests with multiple people making correct guesses. Not this time.

For the latest classic, he went so far as to buy a guess for each minute of each hour for the winning afternoon.

“That’s the way to do it,” Waters said on Tuesday.

Waters also spent time drilling holes in the area to measure the thickness of the ice. Altogether he spent US$5,000 on tickets for submitting guesses and spent an estimated 1,200 hours working out the math by hand.

Try as he might to not be influenced by his birthday, the numbers kept landing on that date.

“I’m just glad it’s over, so I can get started on next year’s classic,” Waters said.

Forness couldn’t recall another other three-time winner of the classic.

For US$2.50 a guess, ticket buyers try to predict when the ice will go out. The jackpot is usually about US$300,000.

The game has been a tradition since 1917 and records show the ice goes out anywhere between April 20 and May 20.

The black-and-white tripod, which has multiple legs, trips the clock when it shifts on the riverbanks as the ice melts.

Waiting for the ice to move is hugely popular in a state that does not participate in lottery drawings or have any sanctioned gambling beyond bingo and pull-cards.

The classic has come a long way since it was founded by engineers surveying for the Alaska Railroad 95 years ago. They charged US$1 a guess as to when the ice would go out and the winner pocketed US$800.

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