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The Times Poll : Lotto Isn't Pulling In the Upscale Gamblers

January 24, 1987|ROXANE ARNOLD | Times Staff Writer

Contrary to predictions, the California Lottery's much ballyhooed Lotto 6/49 game, now in its 15th week, has failed to attract the more-upscale gambler that lottery officials have been banking on to widen their pool of players in the state.

The Los Angeles Times Poll shows overall participation in the lottery has risen only 1% despite the highly publicized introduction last October of the new legalized numbers game, and that Lotto remains far less popular than the previously available scratch-off game tickets.

Moreover, 25% of Californians questioned during telephone polling Jan. 17 and 18 said they had not heard of Lotto. More than half said they do not know how to play.

$15.4-Million Jackpot

The poll was conducted at a time when interest in the Lotto game might have been expected to be especially high, since ticket buyers the previous week had a chance at a record $15.4-million jackpot.

The California Lottery began selling the scratch-off tickets in October, 1985, and added the Lotto game a year later. Although the state sold $2 billion worth of tickets in the first year--a record for a state lottery--ticket sales steadily declined through the year as the novelty of the game wore off.

The introduction of Lotto was expected to revive interest in the lottery and to widen the pool of players by appealing to more buyers and to the more affluent. This expectation was based on the experience in other states and the added lure of the multimillion-dollar jackpots offered in Lotto.

However, the poll showed that most of those who are plunking down their $1 bills for Lotto are the same people who already had been playing the 15-month-old "scratch-off" ticket games. They tend to be middle-income, blue-collar job holders with a high school education.

The lottery remains most popular with those in the $10,000-to-$40,000-per-year income bracket. For example, those who earn $20,000 to $30,000 per year accounted for 21% of the sample, but 23% of those who had played the lottery at least once. Those who earn less than $10,000 a year accounted for 10% of the sample but only 8% of those who played the game, and those in the $40,000-to-$50,000 category were 10% of the sample and 9% of the game players.

More than 8 out of 10 people polled have played the lottery at least once since the game began, but of all players, only 1% are playing Lotto exclusively. Twenty-nine percent are playing both Lotto and the scratch-off game and more than 40% are buying only the scratch-off game tickets. Moreover, those who play tend to buy more scratch-off game tickets per month than Lotto tickets. The price is the same for both games.

Of those polled, 8% said they had begun playing since October, when Lotto 6/49 was introduced, but not all of them are playing Lotto. Moreover, 7% of those polled said they had quit playing since October. Nineteen percent said they have never played any lottery game. The great majority, 66%, said they began playing the lottery before Lotto was begun and continue to play.

Although state lottery officials say that Lotto 6/49 sales are showing a steady increase of 3.5% to 4% a week, culminating in last week's record $10.8 million in ticket purchases, the vast majority of those polled said they are playing at the same level or even less than they did when the game was started. Only 8% said they are playing more.

Legal Numbers Game

Basically a legitimized version of the street-popular illegal numbers games, Lotto 6/49 requires players to pick six numbers from a field of 49. The numbers are entered on a game card and recorded in two central computers.

Each Saturday, a machine randomly selects the six winning numbers. Players who pick all six winning numbers divide the jackpot prize. Players who pick five, four or three of the winning numbers win smaller prizes. When no one wins the grand prize, it rolls over into the following week's game. Jackpots also build along with the number of people who bet each week, and officials have predicted that grand prizes could reach $50 million to $100 million in California.

State Lottery Director Mark Michalko, informed of the poll results, acknowledged that it is unlikely that the lottery, even with Lotto, will draw many new players.

"We have had such enormous penetration in this state, with over 81% playing at one point or another," he said, "it's going to be extremely difficult to get additional people to play. . . . We're not going to have another 10% or 12% of new people playing."

But, Michalko predicted, the people already playing "will tend to play (Lotto) to a greater extent. . . . The more-upscale people will tend to play to a greater extent.

'Educational Task'

" . . . Because the game is so new, we have a large educational task yet to perform here," Michalko said. "We're going to go out and explain the game to them, that's for sure."

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