Four ones add up to costly day for lottery

State pays maximum of $7 million when Pick 4 number wins

May 19, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland | Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

"1111" -- the combination of digits favored by Maryland lottery players -- finally came in Wednesday night, delighting bettors but costing the state nearly $7 million.

Though the state lottery agency generally ends up in the black in all of its betting games, it takes a financial beating when especially popular numbers are drawn.

And no number is more popular than 1111.

The state lottery director, Buddy W. Roogow, returned from his daughter's softball practice Wednesday night and checked the lottery agency Web site to see how the evening drawing had gone.

"I looked at the Pick 4, and I had to look at it again," Roogow said. "Then I thought, `Oh my God.' I had to call the operations center to see if it really happened or if someone was playing a trick on me."

In all, players plunked down $360,000 in Wednesday night's Pick 4 game, including $1,400 on 1111. With a 5,000-to-1 payout, the state had to shell out a little more than $7 million.

At the lottery agency, they call it "breaking the bank," and Roogow and others know which numbers will make it happen -- combinations such as 1111, 1010, 1212 and 2222, or any four-digit number beginning with 19, because players like to play their birth years.

"We lose money -- sometimes a lot of money -- on all of those numbers," Roogow said.

Under state lottery rules, the agency cuts off play on a Pick 4 number any time the state's liability reaches $7 million.

Wednesday night, the state cut off betting on 1111 and three other popular combinations.

Roogow said it was the first time in his nearly four years as lottery director that the state had had to pay out the maximum $7 million in the Pick 4 game.

Smaller losses for the state are not unusual. In late April, the state lost $3.2 million when the number 3333 came up.

Those losses have dampened the state's celebration over its good fortune in recent Big Game sales, which were fueled by a record jackpot that reached $363 million. The state collected more than $10 million in unexpected revenue in those drawings, Roogow said.

Despite the occasional losses, the lottery is on track to bring the state treasury about $390 million for the 12 months ending June 30.

Having 1111 come in was sweet news for the hundreds of players who routinely purchase the combination.

At Pinkey's West Street Liquors & Wine Shoppe in Annapolis, one of the top lottery ticket sellers in Anne Arundel County, at least two ticket buyers hit the 1111 combination, said William B. Malley, one of the store's owners.

Malley remained philosophical about the state's loss.

`They get it back'

"The state may lose money one day, but they get it back the other days," he said.

Malley said ticket buyers were buzzing yesterday about the unusual winning combination. "Any time you have an auspicious number, people are always talking about it," he said. "A lot of them will play it again."

Jennings Jackson, a taxi driver from Hyattsville who stopped in to buy several lottery tickets at Pinkey's yesterday, wasn't one of the winners. But he figures a close friend was.

"He always plays 0 through 9 -- 0000 to 9999," Jackson said.

Jackson said he picks numbers that have some meaning for him, such as 1959, the year of his birth and the address of his grandmother's house. He estimated that he spends about $40 a day on tickets.

"Sometimes it gets kind of morbid," Malley said. "If an air flight goes down, they'll play those numbers. Or if someone gets shot, they'll play the numbers of the address" where it happened.

A $1 bet on 1111 brought a prize of $5,000. The state is obligated to subtract 35 percent of that for income taxes.

Official surprised

Roogow generally knows which numbers translate into losses for the state, but sometimes even he is surprised.

Last week, the Pick 3 number was the seemingly innocuous 769, and the state lost $1 million.

Roogow was baffled, but his staff knew that 769 had some mysterious significance to many lottery players.

"They said that's the death number, whatever that means," Roogow said.

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