Friday, July 13, 2001

Big pot spikes Ohio Lottery income

Lines were long, but will sales still lag long-term?

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Lottery's record-breaking $54 million jackpot has given the state something it hasn't seen for years: surging sales.

        Lottery officials were happily counting their money Thursday while waiting for the owners of two winning Super Lotto Plus tickets, purchased in Willoughby and Canton, to come forward and claim their prize.

        Would-be millionaires bought an estimated $15.5 million worth of tickets from Saturday through Wednesday. That's nearly six times more than the $2.7 million in sales a typical $12 million jackpot rakes in, said lottery spokesman Mike Bycko.

        “From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, lottery tickets were selling at a rate of $24,300 per minute,” Mr. Bycko said.

    How did the Ohio Lottery reach its record $54 million Super Lotto jackpot? Officials in July increased the pool of numbered balls gamblers must correctly pick from 47 to 49, making it much harder to win.
   Matrix Grand prize odds
   47 balls 1 in 10.7 million
   49 balls 1 in 13.9 million
   Source: The Ohio Lottery
        As this week's Super Lotto Plus fever fades, officials were less eager to talk about the Ohio Lottery's past four years of dwindling sales, or speculate whether this week's big prize signals a revival.

        The lottery took in $1.9 billion during the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with $2.15 billion reported in fiscal year 2000. Lottery sales have dropped every year since 1997, when the state collected $2.3 billion.

        Those losses are directly linked to popular multistate games Powerball and the Big Game, which frequently produce jackpots of $100 million or more. Offered in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, Powerball often lures away dollars that might otherwise be spent on Ohio Lottery games.

        Last year's national record $363 million Big Game jackpot, offered in Michigan, clobbered the Ohio Lottery. Lottery agents in the state's northwest region reported sales were down about $9.4 million as Ohioans drove across the border to place bets.

        Things were so bad, Gov. Bob Taft asked lawmakers to let Ohio join either Powerball or the Big Game to revive sales. Republican lawmakers dumped the idea after Mr. Taft rejected a separate plan that would put slot machines at Ohio racetracks.

        There is no doubt the $54 million Super Lotto produced a spike in lottery revenues, proceeds of which help fund Ohio schools.

        A recent change to the Super Lotto game, which made it tougher to win, helped produce the state-record jackpot. There is no guarantee it will happen again soon.

        “Two weeks into this fisal year there is no way we can predict how the next 50 (weeks) will go,” Mr. Bycko said. “We're off to a good start.”

        At downtown Cincinnati's Fountain Square News, store manager Vinay Patel said he'd prefer to sell Powerball tickets, if he were given a choice. Fountain Square News ranks as one of the Ohio Lottery's top Cincinnati agents, with $1.3 million in total sales last year.

        Despite that, Mr. Patel said he was happy to see customers actually lining up to buy Ohio Lottery tickets.

        “It was much busier,” he said. “The line never broke the whole day.”

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