Lotto fever streaked across California Friday in anticipation of a whopping $40-million payoff tonight amid continuing criticism by the state’s top education official that the popular game has failed to benefit schools as its boosters promised.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, in a recent report to the Legislature, said figures show that lottery revenue is supplanting, rather than augmenting, state support of public schools.
Honig’s comments were the latest in a series of barbs aimed at the lottery by state education officials and lawmakers, many of whom have long been dubious of claims that the game would be an economic bonanza for schools.
The mounting criticism, however, has not diluted the enthusiasm Californians have displayed for Lotto 6/49. From San Diego to Eureka, retailers on Friday reported a mushrooming appetite for tickets among shoppers who queued up with cash in hand as word of the mammoth jackpot spread.
“Business is booming. We love it!” said Neal Rocklin, owner of Ethical Drugs on 3rd Street in Santa Monica. “We’ve had between 10 and 50 people in line all day.”
Rocklin, whose pharmacy has a special counter to serve Lotto customers, said he expected sales income to hit $15,000 Friday and climb still higher today.
Lottomania was just as contagious in Northern California.
“It’s unbelievable--busy, busy, busy!” said Paul Lacitinola, owner of the Hootch Hut liquor and video store in Paradise, near Sacramento. “When the pool gets this big, everybody who doesn’t play suddenly wants to play. They come in and buy 300, 400, 500 at a time. It’s crazy!”
To encourage the frenzy, the Hootch Hut’s 24-hour “Lotto hot line” urged players to “beat the crowds” by not waiting until today to purchase the $1 tickets and offered a special incentive--suitcases packed with Diet Pepsi for “just $7.89.”
Eager to accommodate the demand, lottery officials extended by one hour the ticket purchase period on Thursday and Friday nights. Normally, the 7,200 vendors who sell tickets statewide must do so between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Today’s Lotto jackpot was expected to be the largest since Jan. 21, when seven people divided winnings of $41.5 million. If it beats that mark, it would rank as the third largest in the three-year history of the game. The biggest Lotto jackpot was $61.98 million--a North American lottery record set Oct. 29; the second biggest, $51.4 million, was in June.
The stage for tonight’s huge payoff was set Wednesday, when players for the third straight time failed to select the six correct numbers between 1 and 49. The jackpot on Wednesday stood at $26.7 million. Five players--who bought tickets in San Francisco, Daly City, Castro Valley, Marina and West Sacramento--picked five of the numbers plus the bonus number in the midweek drawing and won $569,339 each.
When the jackpot goes unclaimed, the money is rolled over to the next drawing and 20 cents is added from each ticket sold before the deadline. Tickets may be purchased until 7:45 p.m. tonight--just minutes before the televised drawing will take place.
State law earmarks about one-third of lottery revenues for public kindergarten-through-12th grade schools and state colleges and universities. The bulk of that amount--about 28 cents of every $1 ticket--goes to the elementary and high schools.
But state and local education officials have complained that instead of paying for extras like computers and library books, lottery revenue is used to cover such basic needs as salaries.
Honig’s report surveyed 841 of the approximately 1,000 school districts in the state to find out how the lottery money was being spent. It found that 60% of the money was spent on salaries and benefits; 14% was spent on equipment and maintenance, and 13% on books and supplies.
The report said that despite the influx of lottery dollars, the amount the state spends per pupil, when adjusted for inflation, dropped in 1987-88 by $46 to $3,731.
Education officials are projecting a similar decline in 1988-89.