- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The $220 million jackpot in tonight's Big Game Lottery drawing has fueled players' dreams of striking it rich, but they actually have a much better chance of making it big.

With odds of winning 1 in 76 million, a player would have a much better shot at recording a platinum-selling album (1 in 480) or starring in a movie (1 in 385,000).

Even finding a "perfect" mate is a 1 in 50 million proposition.

But favorable odds aren't why people stand in line to buy tickets or meticulously pencil in their lucky numbers it's the giddy prospect of gaudy consumerism, of walking in to work and quitting on the spot.

Long as the odds are, lottery officials say some lucky dreamer who plunked down money for a ticket will match the winning numbers of the Big Game Lottery tonight.

Big Game officials say that although the odds of picking the winning six numbers are 1 in 76 million, 75 percent of the possible numbers already have been chosen.

"Chances of a winner are great when the coverage is even 50 percent, so we should have a winner Friday night," said Penelope Kyle, director of the Big Game in Virginia.

Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland State Lottery, expects Big Game ticket sales this week to be the biggest in state lottery history.

Players in Virginia and Maryland two of the seven Big Game states were hopeful about their chances as they began buying lottery tickets yesterday.

"We'll see more people here," said Ajay Verma, a clerk at the 7-Eleven in the 1600 block of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, as six customers crowded around the lottery machine. "There is going to be a big line tonight and tomorrow."

The biggest Big Game payoff was $363 million in May 2000, when two separate pools of players in Michigan and Illinois won. The other states that offer the Big Game are Georgia, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

The large jackpot has brought out people who don't typically play the semiweekly drawings. For many, the remote chance of winning $220 million is more than worth it.

"I usually don't play," said Allen Ake, assistant manager of BJ's Pharmacy in Kensington, which sells Big Game tickets. "But $200 million? Maybe I'll be lucky. First thing I'd do, I'd buy a house, I'd buy a car. People here have been good to me. I'd give to them," Mr. Ake said.

When asked what he would do with the winnings, Scott Williamson, a consultant living near the Arlington 7-Eleven, said, "No problem. I think it's time for early retirement." He would give big chunks of the winnings to 15 family members, he said.

The net payoff will be less than $220 million. A winner could accept $117.5 million cash or $8.4 million per year for 26 years. After the government takes its cut through taxes, the winner would be left with $81 million cash or $5.8 million per year.

All Big Game proceeds go to Virginia schools; last year, they received $340 million.

In Maryland, Mr. Roogow said the Big Game and other lotteries provided $407 million to the state government and probably will provide $430 million this year.

Large Big Game jackpots get a boost in sales from out-of-state residents. People in the District, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia cross the line to buy chances, Mr. Roogow said.

If there are no winners tonight, the jackpot for the Big Game Lottery will climb to $300 million for Tuesday night's drawing.

The final Big Game drawing is May 14.

The next day the name changes to Mega Millions, which will have larger jackpots, and New York and Ohio will join the states selling tickets.

While Big Game offers an initial jackpot of $5 million, Mega Millions will start with $10 million. Officials predict that the average jackpot will be $80 million, and successive drawings without a winner could push the total to $500 million.

Of course, the odds go up, too. Chances of winning a Mega Millions jackpot will be 1 in 135 million.

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