For Md., New Year comes with a perk -- a new jackpot

$20 ticket for chance to win $1 million gets mixed reviews

November 23, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN REPORTER

State lottery officials who once introduced pine-scented tickets to Maryland's gambling enthusiasts are banking that holiday shoppers will also fork over $20 for a shot at a $1 million stocking stuffer.

The state's first-of-its-kind raffle will have a limited run -- 420,000 tickets -- with winners announced on television New Year's Eve.

"The style of this -- with a definite start and stop date during the holidays -- we thought would fit well with gift-giving and office parties," said Jimmy White, a spokesman for the Maryland Lottery, the proceeds of which go to the general fund of the state treasury.

Prizes for the new "Countdown to Millions" game include: four $1 million awards; eight for $50,000; and 800 smaller gifts, ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Since the contest's Nov. 20 debut, outlets have sold $500,000 worth of tickets. Not a bad showing, officials say, but some vendors are skeptical the pace will continue.

Carolyn Redd, manager of Federal Hill Wine and Spirits, said the store has sold three tickets.

"They cost 20 bucks, for God's sakes," she said. "Most of the people who play the lottery are on a fixed income."

Anthony Pun, manager of Annapolis Wine & Spirits, said sales there are sluggish, too. Pun thinks buyers are creatures of habit and not interested in mixing up their lottery purchases just because there's a new raffle in town.

"They're more used to the Pick Three and Pick Fours, MegaMillions," he said of better-known -- and less expensive -- lottery offerings.

Still, White said he expects ticket sales to pick up in December. He said that the Pennsylvania lottery offered a similar raffle last year, and it sold out in 16 days.

"When we see evidence that something is that popular we want to try it ourselves," White said.

Though $20-per-ticket games are starting to crop up across the country (Maryland has offered $20 Scratch-offs), Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University economist who co-wrote the book Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America, said he thinks the price is high.

"That's pretty expensive. I don't think I'd buy it," he said. "It seems like a lot. If it works there, I guess everybody else will be doing it."

Sales for Maryland's 34-year-old lottery topped $1.5 billion for the first time in the fiscal year that ended in June. Lottery retailers earned more than $102 million in commissions. Players won $900 million.

White said the lottery is about on track to match last year's take. As of Nov. 19, games have had sales of $564 million, with about $175 million in revenue, White said.

Lottery income is Maryland's third-largest source of state revenue, after income taxes and sales taxes.

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