Pictured above is a tripod that rests on top of the frozen Tenana River in Nenana, Alaska. People all over Alaska place bets on when they think the ice will break and the tripod will tip over, marking the reopening of the river in the spring. The person who gets closest wins the Nenana Ice Classic and a portion of the pot. Last year, the winner got $311,000. The rest of the proceeds went to charities.
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The lottery began in 1917 to encourage town residents to watch the river during construction of a railroad across the river when broken ice could endanger the work. Now anyone in Alaska can buy a ticket for $2.50. Bailey Berg of Atlas Obscura writes about what this tradition means to the people of Nenana:
For two months a year, people place their bets in special red cans that are returned to Nenana in early April. There, teams of locals sort the guesses by hand, entering the tickets into an elaborate analog database that’s checked and cross-checked by myriad workers for accuracy. Even though there are roughly 100 employees working six- or eight-hour shifts, it’s so time consuming that in recent years the contest has been over well before the tickets are all accounted for. […]
The Classic is a hold-over from Alaska’s more Wild West, pre-statehood years. Before becoming the 49th state in 1959, Alaska had a robust gambling culture. Membership in the union changed that. The Alaska Legislature legalized charitable lottery-style games in 1960, largely to allow the Classic to continue (and making it one of the oldest continuously running betting events in the country). Sixteen percent of all ticket sales are used for scholarship programs, local causes, and sporting groups, and a handful of larger medical charities. Last year the Ice Classic was able to donate $90,000.