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Lottery Fever Hits Millions

June 05, 1988|BOB STEWART and PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writers

Lottery-crazed Californians seeking a piece of a $51.2-million jackpot--the biggest ever handed out by a state government--bought a record 60.8 million tickets for the Lotto 6/49 drawing held in Sacramento Saturday night.

But state Lottery officials said they will not know until today whether the fevered buying added any names to the roster of California millionaires.

The odds are that someone correctly picked the six winning numbers: 48, 42, 9, 14, 19 and 31, said John Schade, the California Lottery's assistant director of public affairs. The bonus number 37 is used to determine prizes other than the jackpot.

However, Schade said, the announcement of whether there is a winner--or winners--had to await an overnight audit of ticket sales that, at one point Saturday evening, were clocked at a rate of 3 million an hour.

"Statistically, there should have been a couple of winners the last time too," Schade said of the drawing for a $26.1-million jackpot last Wednesday evening, in which no one picked the right numbers. "So it is the luck of the draw, literally," he added. The odds of picking the winning six numbers out of a possible 49 are about one in 14 million.

If only one person came out a winner, he, or she, will receive each year for the next 20 years a check from the state for $2,048,000--with taxes already deducted. If no one selected the winning numbers, the $51.2 million in prize money will be rolled over into next Wednesday's jackpot.

Even if no one walks off with Saturday's prize money, California attained a place in lottery history when its Lotto 6/49 jackpot became the largest ever offered by a state. A few minutes after 4 p.m., ticket sales swelled the big prize beyond the $46-million jackpot handed out by Pennsylvania last October, said Robert Taylor, the lottery's director of public affairs.

Eclipses a Record

Saturday's jackpot eclipsed the previous California record of $25.4 million. That prize was shared on Oct. 26, 1987, by a retired auto salesman from Carmichael and a Long Beach longshoreman. Before Saturday, the richest lottery jackpot awarded in the United States was a $46-million prize claimed by two people last Oct. 14 in the Pennsylvania Super 7 lottery.

The last winner in California's Lotto 6/49 won $10 million in the May 18 drawing. Since then, four biweekly drawings have been held without a winner, which resulted in Saturday's record jackpot.

Despite the widespread attack of Lotto fever, the nearly 6,900 Lotto ticket dispensers scattered throughout the state worked steadily and smoothly all day, Taylor said.

"We have no reports of slowing down of the system or any outages at this point," he said. "We are very pleased so far."

However, at least one ticket seller in Los Angeles said the lottery's computer system appeared to be overloaded at times by the demand of voracious gamblers, with tickets punching out much slower than usual.

'Slows Is Down'

"It slows us down," said Don Cannon, an employee at American Currency and Liquor on Pico Boulevard.

Ticket sales for Saturday had reached $23.8 million by 5 p.m., compared to sales of only $6.7 million for the same period a week ago, lottery officials said. In order to handle the last minute crush of players, state lottery officials had formed a Lottery Fever Management Team made up of phone company and lottery computer terminal experts.

Lines at ticket outlets throughout the state were long Saturday. In some cases, lottery spokeswoman Rendahl Kim said, people queued up outside ticket outlet shops before they opened in the morning.

At the Olympic Shop gift and candy store in Little Tokyo, about 15 people waited to buy Lotto tickets Saturday afternoon in a line that stretched onto the sidewalk.

Leonard Seagal, 30, an artist who lives in a downtown Los Angeles loft, put down $20 on 20 separate numbers, explaining that it would give him a much better chance.

If he won, Seagal said, "I would not change a thing but my underwear."

On Second Thought

A moment later, he recanted. "I take that back. I'd buy a home with a studio, I'd buy a new vehicle, probably a truck. I'd travel and I'd make art."

Andre Mouchard, 27, a reporter for the Orange County Business First newspaper, said he doesn't usually play the lottery. But on Saturday, the Long Beach resident said he put down $2 on Lotto numbers.

"It's the bucks, it seems like a fun thing to do. And the Lakers just won so we're all on a roll."

Joe Schmecker, 66, of North Hollywood said he came back to buy two more tickets after losing the first two he purchased while buying apples and cucumbers at the Grand Central Market.

The retired Schmecker, who played numbers corresponding to his birthday, said he would try the same numbers again--if he could remember them.

'Good Numbers'

As for the tickets he misplaced, Schmecker said, "I wish whoever found the tickets a lot of luck because they are good numbers."

Elias Carrillo, 29, of Los Angeles said he was betting $10 because of the potential payoff.

"It has to be $40 million to gamble $10," he said. "Five million isn't much."

Others, though, became impatient.

Patrick O'Guinn, a driver for Pacific Coast Sightseeing Tours, walked away without playing, explaining, "The line is too long."


Jackpot Lotto winners are selected each Saturday and Wednesday night. Ticket holders are eligible for a prize that varies according to the amount bet last week. If no one wins, the total is automatically added to Wednesday night's prize.

Winning Nos. 48-42-9-14-19-31

Jackpot pool $51.2 million

Holders of tickets with five of six winning jackpot numbers plus a "bonus number" are eligible for a smaller prize.

The bonus number: 37

Lotto information (at 25 a call):

976-4275 (English)

976-5275 (Spanish / Chinese)

* STAR TICKETS to current scratch-off games can earn the holder $500 and a chance at the Big Spin. Weekly drawings will determine the winning combination of three letters. This week's winners: Z V G

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