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Jackpot for 2013 Nenana Ice Classic lottery worth hefty $318,500

Suzanna CaldwellAlaska Dispatch News
The jackpot for the 2013 Nenana Ice Classic lottery -- a 97-year-old Alaska game to guess when, precisely, the ice will go out underneath a tripod set-up on the Interior river -- will be $318,500. James Brooks / cc via flickr

Correction: Upon first publication, this report erroneously referred to the Nenana River instead of the Tanana River, on whose banks the town of Nenana is actually located. The text below has been changed to reflect that widely known fact. We regret the error.

If you're hoping to win big in this year's Nenana Ice Classic, now you know exactly how big.

Nenana’s $318,500 jackpot is down slightly from last year, according to Nenana Ice Classic Manager Cherrie Forness.

That’s directly related to ticket sales, which are off a bit as well. Forness said about 261,000 of the $2.50 tickets were sold, down from last year’s 279,000.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of guesses are made as to when the iconic black-and-white tripod, secured 2 feet deep in the ice atop the Tanana River, will shift and trip the clock that determines the winning time, down to the exact minute. The deadline for entering the 2013 Nenana Ice Classic closed April 5.

Last year's jackpot -- won by Fairbanks' Thomas Waters -- was a record $350,000. Waters correctly guessed that the black and white tripod would fall at 7:39 p.m. on April 23, 2012. He walked away with $242,000 after taxes.

On Thursday, the tripod was still standing sturdy in the middle of the frozen Tanana River. Ice stretches from bank to bank on the river, Forness said.

“We've had a cold spring,” she said. “(The ice) is just taking its sweet time.”

Since March, Tanana River ice has swung back and forth on its thickness -- hitting a maximum 52.8 inches on March 11. The latest measurement shows the ice at 49.2 inches on April 22. The last few days have brought a mix of warm temperatures -- highs in the 50s -- followed by cool temperatures to Nenana. In fact, it snowed on Wednesday.

Forness planned to measure the ice again Thursday.

Like many great traditions, the contest started as a bet between friends. In 1917, Alaska railroad engineers bet $800 on when the river would break up. This is the 97th anniversary of the contest that has paid out more than $11 million since that first bet.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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