Mega Millions bettors California dreamin'

Bigger payoffs, longer odds as game is ready to expand

June 21, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

The odds of hitting the jackpot in tonight's Mega Millions drawing are an astronomical 1 in 135 million, and the chances of winning will be slimmer come Friday.

Tomorrow, California is expected to become the 12th state to join the game, a move that has fueled predictions that some jackpots could swell to $500 million in annuity value. But the higher jackpots won't come without a hitch -- the odds of taking the top prize will rise to a staggering 1 in 175 million.

Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland Lottery and president of Mega Millions, concedes that the odds of winning are "extremely long," but, with the nation's most populous state joining the multistate lottery, "long odds are needed in order to develop big jackpots."

California joined Mega Millions to boost revenue for its public schools. The state expects to see a windfall of $300 million to $500 million, said Chon Gutierrez, California's lottery commissioner. The first tickets are set to go on sale there tomorrow for Friday's drawing.

Roogow expects Maryland's Mega Millions receipts to climb 20 percent, to about $120 million, because of increased sales sparked by bigger jackpots resulting from California's entry into the game. About $50 million of that $120 million would be returned to the state's general fund, Roogow said. Maryland's total lottery revenue from all games totaled about $1.4 billion last year.

California will join Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Michigan and Washington in the Mega Millions lottery.

In the current game, players pick five numbers from 1 to 52 and a Mega Ball number from 1 to 52. In the new game, players will pick numbers from 1 to 56 and a Mega Ball number from 1 to 46. The change boosts the odds of hitting the jackpot to 1 in 175 million. But the jackpot will start at $12 million instead of the current $10 million. The price of a ticket will remain $1.

The change also increases the chances of hitting smaller pots. Second prize -- matching the first five numbers -- will rise from $175,000 to $250,000. Third prize -- matching four numbers and the Mega Ball number -- will double from $5,000 to $10,000.

Mega Millions' main draw is its large jackpots, which increase each time a drawing does not produce a winner for the top prize. The game had its richest jackpot in 2000, when the prize reached an annuity value of $363 million.

"For some reason, it's hard to get people excited when it's only $10 million," Roogow said. "The excitement doesn't build until we get to numbers above $75 million, $100 million or above. Then we see huge sales."

Yesterday at Super Mart in the 800 block of N. Charles St., Mega Millions fans said they were looking forward to the bigger jackpots and said that the increased odds for hitting the jackpot did not bother them.

"California ain't going to keep me from playing," said Mandarin Jessup, 49, after buying several tickets. "The more the merrier; it just means more money for me."

Jessup said he has bought tickets for more than two decades. "I gotta win. I probably put a million into this already. That's the only way I'm getting it back."

Beside him, co-worker, Robert Tunstall, 57, was ticking off a wish list for when he wins tonight's Mega Millions drawing.

"I'm getting a house, a new car, maybe a cruise around the world," he said. "Maybe bring a buddy along. Thank goodness I got no wife. Means one less person spending it all."

Sun staff writer William Wan contributed to this article.

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