Big Game hits $220 million, and dreamers rush to play

Seven-state lottery has second-largest prize in U.S. history

May 05, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Just how big is the Big Game?

Big enough to pay for a downtown stadium, fund the annual operations of the Baltimore Police Department, or give Peter G. Angelos roughly a quarter of the money he says the state owes him from the tobacco settlement.

The jackpot for the Big Game lottery played in Maryland and six other states has reached $220 million, making it the second-largest prize in U.S. lottery history.

And since the amount of the jackpot is tied to ticket sales, which are expected to reach 100 million in the seven states, lottery officials expect it to be even higher by tonight's 11 p.m. drawing of the five winning digits and one gold Big Money Ball.

Among those buying tickets yesterday afternoon were Jung Han and Sang Lee.

Though neither were regular lottery players, they said they couldn't ignore the size of the jackpot.

"It's too big to pass on," said Lee, 24, who does contracting work in Montgomery County and was visiting the Inner Harbor.

Because so many tickets are being bought, officials believe the streak of 17 consecutive drawings without a winner in the twice-weekly Big Game could well come to an end.

"The likelihood is great there will be a winner," said Maryland lottery director Buddy Roogow. "The great majority of combinations will be played."

With the odds of buying a winning ticket 76 million to one, Roogow is counseling moderation even as he exults in the Big Game's entrance into what he calls "uncharted territory."

"The truth of the matter is, it's great entertainment. It's not a great investment," he said. "The odds of being struck by lightning are greater. If I could play, the most I would play is $5."

Roogow said he expected Marylanders to buy about 6.5 million tickets at $1 apiece for tonight's drawing, more than one for every man, woman and child in the state, with as many as 4 million to be sold today.

Lottery retailers are braced for the onslaught of ticket buyers.

"It'll be a zoo," said Bob Degleiter, owner of One Stop Convenience and Deli in Reisterstown. "So many people are going to be here waiting in line. When the jackpot hits $200 million, people get excited."

At Old Solomon's Wine and Spirits in Edgewater in Anne Arundel County, co-owner Charlotte Griffith said: "We've hired somebody just to sit at the lottery machine" dispensing tickets.

Last Friday, when the Big Game payoff was $110 million, "people played up until the machine shut off" at 10: 45 p.m., she said.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a steady stream of Big Game play- "The truth of the matter is, it's great entertainment. It's not a great investment. The odds of being struck by lightning are greater."

Buddy Roogow, Maryland lottery director

ers at most lottery ticket outlets.

At Harbor Liquors in Baltimore, Han and Lee were planning to pool their purchases with three friends, each of whom were buying 20 tickets.

Han was adding his two tickets to those he had bought in his hometown of Bethesda and in Silver Spring.

"I'm trying to get tickets from different places," said the 23-year-old restaurant worker, who hoped the strategy might somehow improve his odds.

Pamela Brooks, a 31-year-old check processor, had a chance to be part of a pool with co-workers at Legg Mason, but decided to go it alone.

"I want all of the money," she said.

She also limited herself to just one ticket.

"I figure one ticket's going to win, so I only need one ticket," she said.

At World News at Harborplace, Sean Thomas and Al Palmieri, who were on their way home from a Lockheed Martin sales conference, each bought two tickets and planned to buy more when they got home to New Jersey.

"It was $150 million when I left Jersey on Tuesday," marveled Thomas.

Palmieri said he would use the money on "a new car for the wife, a house on the lake."

"No Porsche?" asked Thomas.

Palmieri shook his head no.

At the Calvert Cafe a few blocks from the harbor, Julie Bauer bought five tickets and said she would return to buy five more today.

"I never played it before, but all my friends are excited about it," said Bauer, 37, a barmaid at the Calvert House next door.

"I'd share it with 199 people," she added. "I'm not that greedy."

Tonight's Big Game jackpot is second only to the July 1998 Powerball jackpot of $292 million, split by 13 Ohio construction workers who pooled their money.

The cash option would pay about $111 million before taxes. Winners can have the money paid out in 26 yearly installments, but only 10 percent of players choose that option. Besides the jackpot, the Big Game pays off nine smaller prizes ranging from $150,000 to $1, with odds ranging from 2.1 million to 1 to 62 to 1.

On Tuesday, Maryland had one $150,000 winner, who matched every number but the Big Money Ball. Eleven $5,000 winners matched four of five white-ball numbers and the gold Big Money Ball, at odds of 339,002 to one.

Last year, Maryland had two Big Game jackpot winners: George and Celia Poteet of Millersville in Anne Arundel won $61 million in June, and Fred A. Wise Jr. of Middle River in Baltimore County won $36 million in September.

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