Big Game players feed jackpot dreams

Lottery: The $325 million prize has many hoping to beat the odds.

April 17, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Suzanne Obrecht perked up when she heard a newscaster recently liken the odds of winning the Big Game lottery to getting hit by lightning. The Roland Park woman took it as a sign.

As she stood in line yesterday at the Royal Farms convenience store in Mount Washington waiting to buy her first-ever Big Game ticket, Obrecht told how, pregnant with her first child in 1975, she was knocked loopy by a lightning strike near her home.

She has four kids now, and says 27 years is long enough to wait for that metaphorical second bolt.

"When I heard that on the news, I said, `My odds must be pretty good,'" she said.

So Obrecht, 49, joined millions of others yesterday in Maryland and six other states taking aim at the $325 million top prize in the Big Game, its second-highest jackpot ever. She was among an untold number of players who dabble only when the pot rises high enough to capture their imaginations.

"I bought 10, as a matter of fact," said Anne Arundel County Sheriff George Johnson IV, who occasionally buys tickets when the jackpot is well into the millions.

Word on whether anyone was hit by a bolt of lottery lightning was not expected until this morning. The winning numbers in last night's drawing were 07 10 25 26 27/23.

Among yesterday's ticket buyers were employees of insurance companies and mortgage firms - businesses that know something about odds and finances and might be a little sheepish about indulging in a lottery.

In Westminster, loan officer John Fedarcyk, 53, showed up at a High's Dairy Store to buy a stack of tickets for himself and 17 co-workers from his mortgage company. (He didn't want to say which one, for fear of embarrassing his employer.)

"Anytime it gets this big, our interest is sparked," he said. "It's an opportunity; luck's involved, and if you don't play, you don't win. It's destiny. That's all."

Sales for last night's drawing were expected to approach - and possibly surpass - the record $7.5 million spent on May 9, 2000, when the jackpot was $363 million, according to Maryland Lottery Director Buddy Roogow.

The size of yesterday's top prize, advertised as $325 million, will probably be closer to $330 million when final sales are tallied, Roogow said. If there is no winner, the jackpot will roll over to at least $400 million.

The lottery is the rare game, Roogow said, that causes people to get excited when they lose. At many lottery-selling locations, there was more of a frenzy yesterday than on Friday, when the jackpot was a comparatively paltry $220 million.

As the number of players increases, so do the chances of somebody hitting the winning, six-number combination.

On Friday, about 76 percent of all possible combinations were played, Roogow said. Yesterday, about 90 percent of the combinations were expected to be covered.

Based on tickets sold in Maryland and elsewhere, the chances of a winning ticket being issued in the state was "maybe 1 out of 6 or 7," Roogow said.

But who heeds the odds?

Lottery officials are quick to tell anyone interested that each ticket carries a 1-in-76 million chance at the biggest prize.

By comparison, a person's chance of being hit by lightning has been estimated at anywhere from 1-in-9,100 to 1-in-several million.

A number of players interviewed said they weren't oblivious to the odds. They simply preferred to focus on other things, such as lightning strikes, luck and destiny.

Obrecht said she's often beaten the odds on negative occurrences - such as getting struck by lightning, or being pulled over for speeding when others are sailing by. "Why not something positive?" she said.

Others were also looking for their luck to change. Diana Mong, 30, drove from East Berlin, Pa., to the Maryland Line Service Center, just over the Pennsylvania border in Baltimore County, hoping that spending $100 on Big Game tickets might bring her good fortune. She was recently laid off from her manufacturing job and declared bankruptcy.

In Howard County, Solomon Kebede, 26, said he'd help out his homeland of Ethiopia.

"I have to give to charities because there are a lot of poor people in my country," said Kebede.

Sun staff writers Maria Blackburn, Jennifer McMenamin, Andrea F. Siegel and Paul Longo contributed to this article.

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