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Californians snap up tickets for new Mega Millions lottery game

Jun 23, 2005, 12:29 am

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Mega Millions

Californians dished out their first dollars Wednesday on a multistate lottery that has paid record jackpots as high as $363 million.

The California debut of Mega Millions had people lining up at many stores as tickets were offered for the first time.

The potential payoff seemed irresistible for players who ranged from parking attendants to sharp-dressed businesswomen.

Computer administrator Eduardo Cartagena, 25, bought his ticket at a convenience store in downtown Los Angeles.

"I rarely buy tickets, but I thought I'd check it out," he said.

Joyce Chong, co-owner of the store, said that by mid-day she had sold more than 300 tickets for Friday's drawing. That was nearly double the number she sells in an entire day for the existing state Super Lotto.

California lottery officials said about $1.1 million had been spent statewide on Mega Millions tickets by mid-afternoon. Friday's jackpot was estimated at $42 million. By comparison, about $1.6 million had been spent on Super Lotto tickets.

California is the 12th state to join Mega Millions, which had a $363 million jackpot - the nation's record - in May 2000 and a $331 million jackpot in April 2002.

Without California, the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot were one in 135 million. With the state, the chances are one in 175 million.

Players pay $1 for a chance to match five numbers between one and 56 and a 'mega ball' number between one and 46.

Even though ticket sales began, questions have been raised about California's involvement with the game.

The California Lottery Commission didn't seek legislation authorizing participation.

Panel members and the state attorney general's office believe the move was legal. But attorneys for the state Legislature said it could violate a requirement in a 1984 ballot initiative that all lotteries run in California be controlled by the state.

Some state legislators believe that by not having the proper legislation, California would be susceptible to lawsuits by anti-gambling groups.

State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said he will introduce a bill to protect California from such lawsuits while requiring other states to pay the bulk of administrative costs.

Some residents believe all lottery games in the state should benefit Californians only and doubt that the state will be a long-term player in Mega Millions.

"I don't think it will last," said Kyle Vong, 33, who bought five Mega Millions tickets. "I think the lotteries should be in-state because we as taxpayers pay so much into it."

Others doubt that education will benefit from the new game. About 34 percent of ticket sales from California-only lottery games help fund public education.

As she bought tickets at Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne, Lauralee Masuda, 43, said she hoped Mega Millions would provide more funding for state education than past games.

"I think it's really sad that the schools don't benefit the way the state said it would," said Masuda, a Hollywood makeup artist.

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