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Lottery's 34-Cent Gamble

Gaming: Officials create mail-in game to make amends to those who bought Scratchers after top prizes were claimed.


SACRAMENTO — A crack at $1 million in prizes will cost Californians the price of a postage stamp under a special one-time contest the California Lottery will run in a bid to regain players' trust.

Embarrassed by revelations in The Times in December that they had allowed the sale of millions of dollars' worth of tickets for popular Scratchers games even after all top prizes had been awarded, California Lottery officials hope to make amends with a contest that requires no ticket purchase.

To enter, California residents must write their name, address, phone number and age on a piece of paper and mail it to the Lottery. Details about the contest will begin appearing at stores and gas stations next week. Entries must be received by March 18. People can enter as many times as they like.

The 240 prizes range from $1,000 to $25,000. The $1 million in prize money and the roughly $1-million cost of advertising and setting up the contest will come from the Lottery's administrative budget and not cut into the revenue the Lottery gives to public schools, spokesman Vince Montane said.

Theoretically, the one-time contest is open only to people who have played Scratchers. Winners will be asked to sign a form stating that they have purchased Scratchers tickets in the past. But Lottery officials admit they have no way to verify such a claim.

Republican candidate for governor Bill Jones argues that the Lottery should offer 10 $100,000 Scratchers prizes and give away tickets at stores.

"What is the Lottery trying to hide behind the new game, the Big Scam?" asked Jones spokesman Sean Walsh. "We have numerous Public Records Act requests that still have not been complied with to see if this fraud is occurring at a much deeper and broader level than the Lottery has acknowledged."

Lottery officials revealed that from 1996 to April 2001, 11 of 137 Scratchers games had been "active" after all the grand prizes had been awarded, so that ticket purchasers had no chance of winning the biggest prizes.

Wilson said that since December, the California Lottery has begun canceling Scratchers games as soon as only two big prizes are left.

The most popular of the Lottery's games, Scratchers generate $1.2 billion of the Lottery's annual revenue of $2.6 billion.

The address for entries to the free drawing is: Scratchers $1 Million Drawing, P.O. Box 5056, Lake Forest, CA 92609-9903

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