Winning the lottery by using time travel is not a new idea, of course. In The Time Traveler’s Wife it was done because the time traveler randomly leapt to the future as well as the past, so he could get the winning number and bring it back to the present; similarly in The Last Mimzy the assumption was that Larry’s vision of lottery numbers was a vision from the future. This time it is done in what we might think is the more ordinary way: the time travelers watch the lottery results and then travel back a day to buy the ticket. Well done, and it makes them all if not rich beyond the dreams of avarice at least wealthy enough to pay for school and buy some very expensive presents for themselves and others.
I am not an expert on the lottery; I consider it to be primarily a voluntary tax system which more heavily targets the poor and the elderly (seriously, do you think Donald Trump buys lottery tickets?). However, I checked the Georgia state lottery web site and found several games available, but none that seem to fit what we know of this one. The Jumbo Bucks Lotto is the only straight six-ball drawing, but it appears to pay only one million dollars on a six-number match, and only a few hundred for five numbers. The Powerball appears to have a two million dollar jackpot for five numbers, with a sixth number and a chance to match a multiplier; the multiplier only matters if you do not match all six numbers, and the powerball is independent of the other five, and while the jackpot looks like it could be the fifty-three million the five-number match always pays one million, two with the “power play”. There is also a Mega Millions game, which is five balls plus one plus a spare “megaplier”, which stood well above fifty-three million when I looked, but which pays a few million for second place. That might be what they won, but it seems to be a seven-ball game.
The silly thing is, they got the number wrong. They were hasty and careless, and their method had room for significant error: one of them wrote down the number in the future, and another used it to buy the ticket, and the result was that the buyer could not read the other’s handwriting and read one of the numbers incorrectly. Thus instead of winning fifty-three (point-eight-seven-six) million dollars, they won one-point-eight million dollars–three hundred sixty thousand apiece, instead of over ten and three quarter million. Still, it is enough money to make their lives very different.
They entertain and reject the notion of correcting their mistake by traveling back to buy the right ticket. Had they done so, they would have had two winning tickets, one for the jackpot and one for the smaller prize–or would they? This focuses us back on that replacement problem we discussed last time: if the time travelers traveled back to yesterday to buy a ticket, and now they travel back to yesterday again to buy the right ticket, did they buy two tickets, or did they correct which ticket they bought? Did they spend a dollar on the wrong ticket and a different dollar on the right one, and does the lottery department have both dollars, or did they spend the same dollar twice?
It seems rather certain that the second trip back should result in a second team spending a second dollar to buy a second ticket; this is inconsistent, though, with the team that replaced itself so Adam could retake his test, and with the solo trip David made to Lollapalooza. Whenever they travel back to the same time again, or to a time in which they are already present as time travelers, they replace themselves. Presumably, then, if they arrived in the past to buy the correct ticket at the same time that they were already present buying the incorrect one, they would replace themselves and buy the correct ticket instead of the incorrect one, and presumably they would use the same dollar to do it. What, though, if they decided they wanted both tickets? It would not be entirely improbable for someone who bets his favorite numbers to have two tickets, one of which has five numbers correct and the other six. Would they be able to do it if they were careful to target a time well before or well after their original visit? Would it be sufficient for them to target a different place–buy the second ticket in Savannah rather than Atlanta–or would the fact that they were already duplicated in one place at that time prevent them from being duplicated also somewhere else at the same time? How did they get their dollar back?–was it in their pocket when they returned from the past, or did it reappear when they leapt back to the same time? Are they then the same people they were when they made the first rrip, or when they made the second?
They did not attempt it; perhaps the scriptwriters themselves were unclear what would happen and did not want to venture there, but that they considered it should cause us to recognize the flaw.