When Thelma Greathouse rubbed off an ace and two jokers on her "Joker's Wilder" scratch-off lottery ticket, she thought she'd hit it big for $600.
"I had to look at it three, four times. I thought, 'I can't win that much money,' " said Greathouse.
The Middle River lottery player was right -- she didn't.
"Joker's Wilder," introduced this month as a successor to the Maryland Lottery's popular Joker's Wild game that ended more than a year ago, has a ironic twist: The jokers aren't wild -- at least not in the traditional card-playing way.
Unlike the previous version of the game, which let players use jokers to round out threes-of-a-kind, Joker's Wilder requires players to match all three cards to win.
The news was a rude awakening for Greathouse and her friend Ginger Rudasill, who thought they had not only a $600 winner but an additional $67 coming from other game tickets.
When they redeemed the tickets, all they got was $2.
"The girl said, 'The jokers aren't wild.' We said, 'The joker's wilder,' implying that the joker's even wilder than the old game," Rudasill said. "We felt conned by the Maryland State Lottery."
Greathouse and Rudasill aren't alone.
A quick sampling of lottery agents found nearly all had received at least a smattering of complaints since the game began sale Aug. 6.
"They're getting fed up," said Jay Thacker, owner of Vasu's Lobby Shop, a Fayette Street convenience store, who estimated XTC that as many as 70 percent of his customers have been confused by the rules.
Agents' questions about the new game prompted the lottery agency to send a statewide communique clarifying the rules.
But Seth Katzen, the lottery's director of public affairs, said customers aren't reading their tickets.
"Once you look at the ticket, the rules are very clear," he said.
The front of the Joker's Wilder ticket has pictures of the winning combinations, such as three aces, three kings or three queens. But the ticket doesn't say anything, even in the fine print, about whether jokers are wild.
Even if the rules are clear, some may ask why the game is named Joker's Wilder when jokers have been stripped of their wildness.
But the new game also has a higher top prize -- $1,200 -- for scratch-off tickets that turn up a trio of jokers, which is double the payoff for three aces.
"I think the point is that the joker is even a wilder card because it now pays $1,200," said Maryand Lottery Director Buddy Roogow.
Other lottery officials defend the "wilder" moniker because the odds of winning a prize are better.
Overall, the new game will return 58 cents in winnings for every dollar wagered, according to Janet Eberhardt, the lottery's instant ticket project manager. Its Joker's Wild predecessor paid back 56 cents on the dollar.
Roogow, who didn't join the lottery until 1996, conceded that the new game might be a little confusing. "I wasn't familiar with the Joker's Wild game. Maybe that's not a good excuse, maybe it is," he said.
Stanley Sindler, owner of Trotters convenience store on Lexington Street, said players should read the rules.
Pub Date: 8/16/97