El Gordo produces slim profit for state

December 29, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer Staff writer Scott Shane contributed to this article.

Santa and the sugarplums were great. But at Kent Narrows, the most spectacular fat guy of the season was el Gordo, who apparently left his $10 million Maryland State Lottery jackpot Saturday night with Bert Droter, 38-year-old co-owner of a local restaurant.

Lottery officials couldn't confirm that Mr. Droter was the winner yesterday because no one had appeared at a lottery office with ticket No. 2185023 to claim the big prize.

A man who answered Mr. Droter's phone in Queenstown said he wouldn't talk to reporters. But at Angler's Restaurant, a family-owned waterfront establishment, a woman who identified herself as Mr. Droter's sister said he indeed was the $10 million winner. He was "keeping a very low profile," she said, while he spent the day talking with "lawyers and accountants."

Mr. Droter had watched the televised drawing at the restaurant Saturday night and "thought he was going to pass out -- among other things" when his number was called, the woman said. "Everyone in the restaurant knew right away." Yesterday, she added, she had taken "a thousand calls" for her brother, who might be ready to talk to reporters today.

For Mr. Droter (if he is indeed holding the right ticket) and the 24,402 other el Gordo winners -- whose prizes range from $25 to $1 million -- the game was a smash. For the state treasury, however, it may have been a bust.

El Gordo certainly didn't produce the $8 million to $10 million in extra revenues that lottery officials had predicted when the game's 5 million $5 tickets went on sale last month. Fewer than 2.2 million were sold by the Dec. 26 drawing.

Carroll H. Hynson Jr., the lottery's deputy director, said "the good news" was that the game turned a profit -- though he couldn't say how much of one. Newspaper articles that tracked the slow el Gordo sales didn't help, Mr. Hynson added.

He said the bookkeeping for the game wouldn't be completed until next week. But some rough calculations suggest any profit likely would be small:

With 2,195,924 el Gordo tickets sold at $5 apiece, the lottery agency should have grossed $10,979,620 from ticket sales. The prize payout should cost the state approximately $9.7 million, depending on the exact cost of the 20-year annuities used to pay the $1 million and $10 million prizes.

That would leave about $1.28 million. But the agency said earlier this month it would spend about $1 million to advertise the game, and lottery outlets receive a portion of the proceeds in commissions and bonuses. So it would appear that the game barely broke even.

While the accountants were working on el Gordo's books, the winners were beginning to come forward -- including two of the five $1 million winners.

Sonja and Willard Carr of Baltimore told lottery officials they intend to set aside their prize for their three children and two grandchildren. They bought their ticket at Whitey's grocery on Hammond's Ferry Road. Mrs. Carr, who is 51, makes porcelain dolls. Mr. Carr, 53, works for an optical wholesaler, lottery officials said.

The second million-dollar winner to appear yesterday was J. Azzara, a 75-year-old widower from Boynton Beach, Fla., whose ticket was a gift from his granddaughter. That ticket was bought at Lee's Restaurant in Hyattsville, lottery officials said. Mr. Azzara, who was in Maryland to visit his 22-year-old granddaughter, said he intends to contribute to charity and to share his winnings with his two grandchildren.

Three other $1 million el Gordo winners have yet to appear at state lottery offices. Twenty-two people won $25,000 each; 220 won $2,500; 2,196 won $250; and 21,959 won $25, Mr. Hynson said.

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