Mailbag: The lowdown on winning the Ohio Vax-A-Million lottery

By: - June 1, 2021 12:40 am

Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus.

You have a 1-in-2.8 million chance of winning the Vax-A-Million, but at least a 1-in-3 chance of enjoying the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag column. With those odds in mind, let’s get started:

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Can you take the Vax-A-Million winnings as a lump sum or annuity like the lotto? How much do people net with an income at the average U.S. income level? How many foreign language speakers signed up since registration is only in English?

– Sarah Ingles, on Twitter.

Answers: I’ll go one at a time here. 

The Vax-A-Million rules say the payment is given in a lump sum approximately six weeks after the drawing date. There’s no option to accept your winnings in smaller, annual chunks.

(This works out well for me in my plan to use my eventual winnings to buy the Longeburger Basket building in Newark to serve as a combination Ohio Capital Journal bureau-greasy spoon diner. A reporter can dream.)

Screenshot of the Ohio Vax-a-Million website.

Of course, winning a vaccine is not all rainbows, unicorns and getting a personal call from the governor on your way to buying a used car. There’s the Tax Man to consider.

It pretty much doesn’t matter what your income level is going into the drawing, because the moment you win, you’re catapulted to the highest income bracket.

For Ohio, the highest tax bracket is $221,300+ in yearly earnings you’d pay $8,143 in taxes, plus around 4.8% of everything over that $221,300 mark.

For the federal government, the highest tax bracket is $518,401+ in yearly earnings for single filers you’d pay $156,235 in taxes, plus 37% of everything over that $518,401 mark.

The local taxes depend on where you live.

If I’m doing the math right, a Vax-A-Million winner can expect to bank something in the ballpark of $600,000, give or take money depending on your tax filing status and whatever your municipal taxes are.

Regarding the number of foreign language speakers, that’s likely impossible to know. There’s debate as to whether the database of entrants is a public record, and even if it is, it would be difficult to ascertain (among millions of names) how many speak English versus how many do not.

The state has set up a Vax-A-Million hotline that people can call (1-833-427-5634) to register over the phone rather than through the website.

Are they required to publish the winners’ names, even though Ohio is a state where lottery winners can remain anonymous?

– @SparkyTory, on Twitter.

Answer: Yes, all the names are made public.

In fact, by registering for Vax-A-Million, you are consenting to the state of Ohio using your name and likeness “in perpetuity, for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, notification or permission unless prohibited by law, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised.”

In other words, the state can (and will) use you to promote not just the vaccine lottery but vaccine availability itself. The next time I’m on I-71 to Cleveland, I fully expect to pass Grandpa’s Cheesebarn and see a billboard showcasing the Vax-A-Million winners’ smiling faces. “These Ohioans got their COVID-19 shot and won a million bucks. So could you!”

Gov. Mike DeWine wasted no time in sharing a picture of his visit with the first scholarship winner. (It didn’t hurt that the winner lives only about 30 minutes from the governor’s home.)

After a year of being the bearer of bad news, DeWine now gets to spend a month dishing out prizes like he’s with the Publishers Clearing House. During a re-election campaign, no less. 

There are obvious downsides to having your name and face published all across the state as having won a lottery. Second cousins and long lost friends come out of the woodwork to ask politely for a slice of the pie. Not to mention the strangers and internet sleuths who predictably snoop around your social media profiles. 

This, however, is what Ohioans willingly signed up for in putting their names in the hat. 

Whether you like the program or not, it makes some sense the state would use the winners’ stories to try to push other Ohioans to get the vaccines and enter the drawings. 

After all, this isn’t a normal lottery. It’s a marketing tool.  

Reading list

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed:

Cherry bombs in drop boxes? Election officials say Ohio boxes are secure – I fact checked some claims about drop box security in a recent legislative committee hearing by talking with elections officials across Ohio. 

Even with 11 generic competitors, prices for one drug remain a lot higher than they need to be – Reporter Marty Schladen gives a close look at the reasons for why some drug prices remain so high.

Second ‘critical race theory ban’ enters Ohio House – There are now multiple proposals under consideration in the Ohio Statehouse to ban “critical race theory” from being taught in schools, Susan Tebben writes.

One year after murder of George Floyd, police reform stalled in OhioJake Zuckerman’s story reflects on the year of inaction on police reform legislation, and what the governor is still hoping to achieve in the months ahead.

Vax-A-Million: Is it worth it? – Guest columnist Rob Moore looks at the pros and cons of the vaccine lottery to determine if it’s a “gamble worth considering.”



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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.