Big sales for Big Game

Jackpot: With the top prize in the six-state lottery reaching $190 million, people are buying tickets at a frenzied pace around Maryland.

April 06, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez and Jennifer Sullivan | Rafael Alvarez and Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Fueled by fantasies of the good life, the feeding frenzy for a Big Game jackpot worth $190 million had lottery retailers from Cambridge to Cumberland averaging 45 transactions per second yesterday.

That big pile of money is the single largest lottery jackpot in the United States to date and is based on ticket sales in the six states participating in the Big Game: Georgia, Illinois, Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts and Maryland.

By today, when the winning numbers are drawn, Julie Tsakalas expects lines snaking out the door of her Pigtown confectionery, driven not by the aroma of Tsakalas' fresh turnovers but by the smell of money.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun contained two errors regarding the Big Game lottery. The drawings for the Big Game are held Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history was a $295 million Powerball drawing held last year. The Sun regrets the errors.

"I want to go to Aruba," said Marvin Whitney, 57, who plays the numbers game at Andy and Julie's about four times a week. "I have an aunt that goes there every year. I want to go there, too."

Linda Galster plays the Big Game at Andy and Julie's in Southwest Baltimore a couple of times a week. The unemployed Galster nodded toward the problems that are plentiful at Washington Boulevard and South Carey Street and said: "If I win, you won't see that many homeless people out here."

Galster has been telling her husband, Ken, a drywall finisher, to buy tickets at different locations in the counties as he travels to various jobs.

"Not too many people hit the lottery in Baltimore," she said.

State lottery officials deny that odds favor people outside of Baltimore, but the notion persists.

At the House of Liquors in the Carroll Plaza shopping center just outside Westminster, about 2,000 tickets were sold by yesterday afternoon.

"I think it's obscene, it's decadent," said liquor store cashier Jack Zukas as he rang up sale after sale.

Not so decadent, however, that Zukas hasn't bought a few for himself.

"You have to," he reasoned.

Given the choice between $100 million in one lump, pretax sum or a $190 million annuity, Westminster's George Wittig will take the cash. Not that he knows what he'd do with it.

"I have no [idea]," he said, stuffing 10 tickets into his wallet. "I know I wouldn't tell anyone, and I'd take the first bird out of here."

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Big Game winners are drawn from ticket sales in the six participating states.

Tonight's drawing takes place in Atlanta.

"An average week [of Big Games sales this year] in Maryland is" $750,000, said Jimmy White, a state lottery spokesman. "Last week, we did 7 million."

From the field of five numbers on each ticket, an average of 77 million combinations are possible.

With such long-shot odds, the Big Game jackpot leaps quickly from its starting point of $5 million into the stratosphere.

The current pot of money has matured over 13 drawings without a winner.

"You have a better chance of going to the moon" than winning, said Tyler Jarvis, an assistant math professor at Brigham Young University and the author of "Gambling: What Are the Odds?"

"By any normal human standards," said Jarvis, "the odds are zero."

But $190 million is not an income of normal human standards and you don't have to be an Einstein to figure out what that kind of cash would do to the life of an average working stiff.

"If I win, I'll take the cash, [homeless advocate] Bea Gaddy will get her share, and I'll take care of my family," said John Ginn, 54, of Glen Burnie, who bought 40 tickets. "Then I'll disappear. When you have that kind of money you'll get all kinds of friends."

Sun staff writers Kristine Henry and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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