Lotto Is All Set to Double the Ante

Times Staff Writer

Hoping to increase stagnating Lotto sales by as much as 30%, California's new lottery director said Tuesday that lottery officials will introduce an expanded, twice-a-week numbers game by October.

Chon Gutierrez, appointed to head the lottery by Gov. George Deukmejian last month, said the twice-weekly drawings on Wednesdays and Saturdays will come roughly a year after the state started the Lotto 6/49 game, which has featured a weekly Saturday drawing.

The expanded Lotto game, approved by the Lottery Commission two months ago, will replace the Saturday-only drawings. In its first year, the Lotto game is falling short of the original goal of more than $1 billion in annual sales. Total lottery sales for the year are expected to be $1.75 billion, including about $1 billion in sales of instant scratch-off prize tickets.

Speaking to reporters and editorial writers at The Times, Gutierrez noted that on average, about 75% of the Lotto tickets sold weekly are purchased in the 48 hours before the Saturday drawing. Ticket outlets are underused the rest of the week, he said.

Thus, lottery officials hope to increase sales with two drawings a week, doubling the number of peak selling periods.

In Lotto, which augments the lottery's more popular scratch-off ticket game, players select six numbers. A machine then randomly selects six winning numbers and a so-called bonus number. Any bettor who has selected all six numbers wins the jackpot. Those who select three, four or five of the numbers, or five numbers and the bonus number, win lesser prizes. If no one picks the winning numbers, the prize rolls over into the next week's prize pool.

Gutierrez said he "is not interested in breaking new records" in lottery sales. He believes that the Lotto game was damaged by predictions of success that were too ambitious and promises of $100-million jackpots that never materialized.

Gutierrez, a former undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said the state-run gambling operation "has a moral obligation to use self-restraint" in attracting players and should not use heavy-handed advertising.

But he also said his staff is studying introducing player-activated terminals, akin to automated teller machines at banks, in which Lotto players can pick their numbers without the use of store clerks. Another long-range plan to increase interest in the numbers games would be to start a daily game in which players pick three numbers and collect some winnings immediately.

The more immediate change will be the twice-a-week drawing, to be introduced as soon as new computer programs are written to accommodate it. Gutierrez predicted that the expanded Lotto game will attract more players because jackpots will grow more quickly and larger than the current ones, which have yet to top $20 million.

Gutierrez said the big challenge facing the lottery is to attract new players. As it is, an average of about 3 million players spend $4 each a week on Lotto.

"We don't want to encourage people to play who can't afford it," Gutierrez said.

However, he said that "loyal players" who now spend $4 a week may well increase their weekly Lotto outlay by a dollar or two.

In the expanded game, players still will pick six numbers and the odds of correctly selecting all six will be the same, about 1 in 14 million. If no one picks the six winning numbers on a Wednesday, the prize will roll over to the Saturday drawing and continue to increase until someone picks all six.

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