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$80-million Lotto crescendo

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[Times photo: Bill Serne]
A clerk at Pic Pac Liquors at 6609 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg sells Lotto tickets Tuesday for the $80-million jackpot.
By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


Who wants to be a millionaire 80 times over?

Lots of people, judging from lottery ticket sales.

Tonight's $80-million Florida Lottery jackpot is the biggest in the country now. But Floridians will still buy fewer lottery tickets than they did for Saturday's jackpot, which was a mere $60-million.

The state switched to a twice-a-week Lotto five months ago, but Lotto players are more likely to buy tickets for the weekend drawing.

"We've had Saturday drawings for 12 years. Not everyone is used to that Wednesday drawing," said Florida Lottery spokesman Leo DiBenigno.

The new Lotto, with even higher odds against winning, was designed to produce big prizes and boost stagnant sales.

This particular jackpot started at $3-million on March 1, before the game rolled over eight times without a winner. Now it's the sixth-highest in state history.

"Everybody wants that much money, whether it's Wednesday or Saturday," said Christine Collette, a clerk at Henry's Newsstand in Clearwater, a popular outlet for lottery tickets.

"On Wednesdays and Saturdays, it's really packed in here," Collette said. "People always ask me to sell them the winner. I always say, "It's guaranteed.' "

The winner of tonight's jackpot could choose a one-time payment of about $37.7-million after taxes, or annual payments of about $2.66-million a year for 30 years.

This jackpot dwarfs those of multistate lotteries. Tonight's 21-state PowerBall jackpot is $34-million. Tuesday night's prize in The Big Game, a seven-state lottery, was $21-million.

Florida Lottery ticket sales were brisk by Tuesday afternoon, selling at a rate of nearly 15,000 a minute. Sales could reach 25,000 a minute between 5 and 8 tonight, DiBenigno said.

On Saturday, when the prize was $60-million, tickets sold at a rate of 27,000 a minute.

The number of people playing doesn't change the odds of winning. Players pick six numbers from 1 to 53, and the odds of choosing the winning numbers are one in 23-million.

DiBenigno said there's a 32 percent chance that no one will win. The jackpot would roll over for the ninth time and could hit $100-million for Saturday's drawing.

Florida's highest-ever jackpot was $106.5-million, shared by six in 1990. The highest prize claimed by a single winner was $55.2-million.

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