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Education Reaping No Jackpot Despite Lotto Sales Surge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California’s national record-breaking Lotto pool has pulled the games of chance out of a prolonged sales slump, but the portion that goes to schools will be no panacea for the state’s money-short education system.

Even with players buying chances at the rate of millions of dollars per hour up to the Wednesday cutoff time, lottery officials said the 34% of the take that goes to schools will be less this fiscal year than last.

“Before last week we were at 95% of where we should be to achieve our goal for the year. Last week we moved to 98%. Now I would say we’re going to achieve our sales goal, but our goal this year is still less than last year,” said Joanne McNabb, communications manager for the California Lottery.

Since the current jackpot of $117.1 million began its climb in mid-March, McNabb said ticket sales have reached $254.5 million. Players shelled out more than $50 million of that amount in the last few hours leading up to the Wednesday drawing, setting a new high for a single day’s business, she said.

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The previous U.S. jackpot record--$115.58 million--was awarded in Pennsylvania’s lottery in 1989.

Wednesday’s winning numbers were 1, 7, 16, 19, 26 and 53. The bonus number was 52.

The jackpot sales prompted officials to predict that revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30 would be $2.15 billion, the goal they had set several months ago. That would produce $762 million for schools, compared to the $980 million they received last year.

With student enrollment higher and lottery sales lower, officials said the education system will receive $123 per student in 1991, compared to $163 last year.

Until the latest super jackpot began fueling gambling fever in the state, McNabb said interest in the games of chance, particularly the big money maker Lotto, seemed to be flat. In a report to his board, lottery director Chon Gutierrez attributed the slow action in part to the country’s economic woes and to a flagging interest nationwide in lottery games.

“I think most of the lotteries across the country are seeing less performance than they anticipated,” McNabb said. “There’s sort of a maturation of the whole industry and some new things will have to happen if it’s going to continue to grow.”

In California, sales began to drop last summer with a revision in the Lotto game that created some player dissatisfaction. Players complained that the change, which was made to create more big jackpots, dramatically lessened their chances of winning.

Although sales remained level after that, lottery officials decided that their original sales goal for the year of $2.4 billion was too optimistic and reduced it to $2.15 billion.

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In December, McNabb said, sales plunged even lower as Lotto failed in nine consecutive draws to produce a major jackpot. In January, sales rose as a jackpot began to build, ultimately reaching $40 million. They then dropped back about the time the United States became involved in the Gulf War.

Gutierrez told his board that in a climate of uncertainty created by a chaotic event like a war, people tend to hold on to their discretionary dollars, causing sales for entertainment like the lottery, Disneyland and the movies to go soft.

By March the lottery’s sales were so soft that Gutierrez said without a dramatic turnaround, revenue for the year would be just $2 billion and the schools’ cut of the take would be under $700 million. He said the agency also would have to prepare to cut back once again on its overhead with another reduction in advertising.

Five days after he made his predictions, the turnaround began with the current jackpot buildup.

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At a board meeting today, Gutierrez will report that sales for the year are doing well for the lottery’s other games including Scratcher at $365 million, or about 96% of the lottery’s goal; Topper at $128 million, or about 109% of its goal, and Decco at $79 million, exactly at the goal.

Little Lotto, a game introduced five weeks ago that has a fixed jackpot of $500,000, has so far produced $39 million in sales, well above initial predictions.

In the long run, McNabb said, officials believe there will have to be other changes in their operation. To continue attracting new customers, she said the agency is planning on expanding its distribution system, hoping to move more heavily into supermarkets and possibly even major retail outlets.

“California’s different from the East Coast in the way people shop,” she said. “They shop one-stop and we’re testing ways to get more games into these places where they go.”

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TOP 10 CALIFORNIA JACKPOTS Wednesday night’s jackpot of $117.1 million was the largest in the nation. Here are the previous 10 largest lottery jackpots awarded in the state, with the number of winners and numbers selected:

Jackpot Date Winners Winning numbers $68.56 million 2/21/90 4 12-21-27-34-41-44 $61.98 million 10/29/88 3 5-20-26-28-32-39 $56.34 million 9/13/89 9 2-11-19-21-28-32 $51.4 million 6/4/88 2 9-14-19-31-42-48 $46.74 million 4/11/90 3 3-10-26-33-36-39 $45.3 million 12/5/90 1 7-25-26-27-36-39 $44.88 million 3/4/89 4 16-26-27-36-43-45 $44.00 million 8/11/90 1 8-9-11-26-28-42 $41.58 million 1/21/89 7 11-12-16-31-34-37 $39.16 million 8/24/88 2 14-19-25-33-41-46

Source: California Lottery


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