Players Protests Rise With Odds In Texas Lottery
By JOHN W. GONZALEZ
AUSTIN -- A plan that would make it harder to win the Texas Lottery's biggest jackpots is back.
And so are the protests.
Stymied by sluggish Lotto ticket sales, the agency in charge of the games has revived a plan that was ditched last fall because of an outcry from players.
The plan calls for adding four more numbered balls to the 50 that are used to draw the lottery numbers for the twice-a-week jackpots.
A player's odds of matching six numbers from 1 to 50 to the six numbers that are drawn is 15.8 million to 1. Under the new plan, scheduled to start in June, the six balls would be drawn from a pool of 54, causing the odds to leap to 25.8 million to 1.
The rule change, which was announced March 14, primary election day, drew little immediate attention. So far the public has sent about 200 letters and e-mails to the Texas Lottery Commission. (Check with the Governor's office and ask me how how many petitions I already have that I plan to fax across the state.)
The fight against the stiffer odds is being led by Dawn Nettles, a Garland resident who dispenses lottery tips on the Internet.
"We are the voters and the paying customers. It is our game," Nettles told her Web site readers last week.
Other irate players were just getting warmed up, too.
"They can take their new game and four balls and stick 'um you know where!" one player wrote to Nettles.
"I feel the chances of winning are already way too slim," wrote another.
Several others said they will refuse to play the new game and said poor marketing, not small jackpots, was to blame for disappointing sales. But most expressed doubt that a second round of protests would reverse the commission's decision. (If 4 balls are added, we will NOT buy Lotto tickets then we'll see how fast the pot grows. That's what a great many Texans are already planning. Notice the next jackpot only went to $6 million after tonights drawing. (March 25, 2000)
Despite the loud outcry last year, some of the lottery commission's public hearings on the rules change only attracted a handful of opponents. (Well, players certainly won't waste their time going now... it was a total waste of the People's time 6 months ago. The Commission hasn't done one thing we recommended!) Whatever the response this time, lottery administrators say they have little choice but to find a way to make the jackpots bigger. Lotto Texas ticket sales are running from $8 million to $25 million a week, depending on jackpot sizes. (Try giving the retailers an incentive)
Raising the odds could increase the average jackpot from $9 million to about $19 million, lottery operators said. And jackpots in the double-digit millions are what is needed to cure lottery "fatigue," the experts say.
"We know we've got a problem with our Lotto game because we don't see our players coming into the game until we see our jackpot get up to $18 million and above," said lottery Director Linda Cloud. (Ms. Cloud, what do you mean, "We don't see our "players" coming into the game until ..." How did the pot get to $18 million if your players weren't there? What are we ... the insignificant few? Statements like this indicates a need for change alright - we need someone well versed in marketing in charge of the Lottery.)
Last week's winner, former Dallas Cowboy Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, for example, said he never bothered to played unless the jackpot was in the $20 million range. (Show me a smoker, drinker, or gambler who feels like you should ask them that kind of question or who feels like it's any of your business how much they smoke, drink or play! And I suppose that the people who only buy when the jackpots are larger have spent $20,000 since the games began like Hollywood admits to having spent. Huh?)
The plan to increase the number of balls in the Lotto drawing was one of the final acts of commission Chairwoman Harriet Miers, who resigned last week, saying the games were on the road to recovery after months of lackluster sales.
The 54-ball game still requires final approval by the commission. That could happen after a formal public comment period that is set from April 1 through May 1, if the proposed rules appear on schedule in the Texas Register by March 31.
One hint that the commission will stand its ground this time is that rather than having a series of statewide public hearings, the commission has only one planned: 10 a.m. April 19 at commission headquarters in Austin. (They planned to have only one meeting the last time too. It was after all the media attention that they changed their plan. And they will this time too. You'll see.)
Nettles and other devoted players plan to testify against the change. But Cloud says he believes opposition isn't as strong this time around, and an advertising campaign is already in the works. (The People have already told you NO. So now they are just waiting for you to make this change - then they plan to watch you fall flat on your face.)
"All the states are having to look at their games. It's like any business. You've got to keep changing that product to keep the people interested," Cloud said. A few states have done what Texas is contemplating -- Pennsylvania's players choose numbers from 69 balls facing odds approaching 130 million to 1. (Pennsylvania started their 69 ball game on Sept 12, 1998. Since they began, as best as I can tell from reading the press releases on their web site, it appears they have sold approx. 10 winning tickets in approximately 155 drawings! I might also mention that PA Lottery officials refuse to tell me verbally how many winning jackpot tickets have been sold and exactly how many drawing they've had since Sept 12, 1998. If anybody can find out, I'll post it. Just phone Sally, 717-986-4714. She says since I'm the press, she needs an open records request and $2 per page to answer these two questions!!!! They guarantee their starting pot at $3 million and it grows by $1 million until it reaches $18 million. Aren't they generous? Here's a little chart of what I could figure out from PA's site.
This is EXACTLY where Texas is headed.)
The other thing we're seeing -- Internet gaming -- is starting to be a real problem for us," Cloud said. "There's illegal gambling out there right now -- about 700 gaming sites -- and that's going to have tremendous impact on all the lotteries." (Yes, but didn't you know that competition is healthy. It appears that since the Texas Lottery is operated by politicians, ya'll bully your competition so you can try to get it all with your state lotteries. Just look at what "legal" maneuvers have been done to stop the Sweepstakes people, the 8 Liners machines and the online gaming. The only people who seem to be complaining about all this is our government - not the people. And the Texas Lottery has been very active in pursuing the retailers who have 8 liner machines and stopping the players from using their winnings to purchase Lotto. That's where you lost millions! Ask the retailers. Those same people still play those machines but instead of purchasing Lotto, they now purchase all other merchandise. And Linda Cloud, you did this yourself.)
She said last week's ticket-buying frenzy was fresh evidence that big jackpots excite Texas players.
"It's like Harriet said in our commission meeting," Cloud said. "Our players are voting with their dollars. They're just not coming into the game until the jackpot gets up to a certain level."
50 vs 54 Balls
The Proposed Changes
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