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GOP Foe of Davis Urges Free Lottery Drawing

Politics: Candidate Bill Jones attacks state over admission that ineligible tickets were sold.

January 03, 2002|VIRGINIA ELLIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The lottery will surface as a new issue in the gubernatorial campaign today as Republican candidate Bill Jones calls for a free $1-million drawing to compensate players who bought Scratchers tickets that weren't eligible for prizes.

In a bit of political comeuppance, Jones will call for the resignation of Gov. Gray Davis' Lottery Commission, contending that the five members knew or should have known that tickets for some games were being sold when purchasers had no chance of winning the top prizes.

"Folks, that is fraud," Jones said in prepared remarks. "If a private-sector company engaged in that type of activity, they would be heavily fined."

A spokesman for the state-run games of chance said Wednesday that officials did not know about the problem with the Scratchers tickets until a lawsuit was filed on behalf of some players, and that they corrected it immediately.

Lottery spokesman Vince Montane said Jones' proposal for a free drawing sounds much like plans already underway at the lottery, which will hold a $1-million second-chance drawing in February for anyone with tickets from past or current games.

"If that's what he's proposing, we're already doing that," Montane said. "That will be our way of going back and saying 'Gee, there was a problem and we have rectified it.' "

The use of the lottery as a campaign tool copies a successful strategy that Davis employed in previous elections and during his tenure as state controller.

When he opened his campaign for governor, Davis said he wanted to institute an annual audit of the lottery because of a widespread belief that it was badly managed and had failed to provide all the promised revenue for education.

In the 17 years since voters approved the California Lottery Act, the games of chance have frequently been a source of controversy because they have never been the boon to education that promoters promised.

Under law, at least 34% of lottery revenue goes to schools and universities, but that provides only a small percentage of the money needed to run them.

The latest controversy stems from revelations that the lottery had continued to sell Scratchers tickets to some games after all the grand prizes had been awarded.

Officials later admitted that in 11 of the 137 games played since 1996 some tickets had been sold that were not eligible for top prizes.

They noted that the problem dated back to the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

A spokesman for Jones said his proposal for a $1-million drawing differs from the lottery's promotion because it would not require players to purchase any tickets to get a free ticket.

Jones will announce his plan today at a news conference at the Rancho Jr. Market, a Burbank convenience store that sells Scratchers tickets.

Scratchers, which allows players to see if they are winners by scratching off the ticket's surface, is the lottery's most popular game.

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