5 states unite on Big Game lottery Md., Va. included

jackpots that exceed $50 million possible

June 12, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

It's called The Big Game, and lotteries in Maryland and four other states hope it will boost sales in a big way beginning Aug. 31.

At a news conference in Chicago yesterday, lottery directors from the five states announced the creation of a new multistate game with jackpots that could exceed $50 million.

Lottery retailers in Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia will begin selling the $1 tickets Aug. 31. The first weekly drawing will be Sept. 6 in Illinois.

The Big Game resembles Powerball, played in 20 states and Washington, and the lottery directors hope it will compete directly with the older multistate game.

"Combining the populations of our five states -- 38 million people -- has allowed us to create a game that will generate jackpots much bigger than any of us could generate individually," said Desiree Rogers, director of the Illinois Lottery.

"Bigger jackpots mean better sales and more excitement. We estimate [annual] sales of more than half a billion for the five states combined," Rogers said.

Lotto jackpots in the $1 million range no longer lure players the way they have in the past, officials said. As a result, lotteries say they must look toward higher prizes to keep sales from declining or stagnating.

Maryland expects The Big Game to bring $17 million to $19 million into state coffers each year, said Carroll H. Hynson Jr., the lottery's deputy director of public affairs.

Although not earmarked for the Baltimore stadium, some of the new revenue could be used to finance that National Football League project. "We will not eliminate the possibility of some of the proceeds going for funding the stadium," said Hynson, who watched the news conference on a satellite link at WJZ-TV offices in Baltimore.

In the budget year that begins July 1, Maryland officials are counting on the lottery to bring $459 million to state coffers -- about $13 million more than this year. That amount includes $32 million earmarked for construction of the Ravens stadium.

The five states will split the administrative costs of The Big Game and divide proceeds by the amount of sales in each jurisdiction.

In The Big Game, players chose five numbers from 1 to 50, plus one bonus number from 1 to 25. They must match all six numbers to win a jackpot worth at least $4 million, beating odds of 1 in 53 million.

Similar to Powerball, the new game offers eight other ways to win cash prizes between $1 and $150,000. The overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 22, said Michigan Lottery Commissioner Bill Martin.

The drawings will be held Fridays about 11: 30 p.m. EST and will be broadcast locally.

Several state lottery directors said they expected the new game to chip away at sales of other games, but they expected an overall increase in sales.

Maryland lottery officials have said they expect a similar trend. They hope to attract new sales from the 23 percent of Maryland players who buy Powerball tickets, as well as from people who play Lotto only when the jackpot is high.

"Our players who cross state boundaries for large jackpots will now have the same opportunity in Maryland," said Assistant Lottery Director William W. Saltzman, who represented Maryland at the news conference.

In Baltimore, Valerie Lorenz, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center, viewed the announcement with dismay. She noted that Maryland has expanded state-sanctioned gambling without providing funds to prevent and treat gambling addiction.

The Big Game "is another opportunity to gamble in the desperate hope of winning," Lorenz said. "We're concerned about gambling in the state of Maryland because there are no funds for treatment programs. The state legislature year after year kills any bills related to compulsive gambling."

Maryland Lottery Director Lloyd W. Jones began negotiating the state's participation in The Big Game nearly a year ago. A legislative committee approved the game May 21.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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