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Lottery winners question Calif. Mega Millions prizes

Apr 25, 2006, 7:05 am

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Mega Millions

Marjorie Givens thought she hit the jackpot last month when she realized her Mega Millions ticket was worth $250,000. She matched five numbers but missed the Mega Ball.

Her second-prize payout was half that of a California resident who played the same five numbers - 27, 36, 43, 49 and 54 - and also missed the Mega Ball on the same night in the same drawing. That person took home $503,851 before taxes.

"I thought it was one lottery, equal for everybody," said Givens, of Stark County.

But the California laws that govern lottery games are different from the 11 other states in Mega Millions.

Still, the prize came two days after she turned 75, and she thought it was a nice birthday present.

"What can you do? It's the way the laws are," Givens said.

She said she had heard that the California player took home a lot more money than her and Justin Fazenbaker, of Toledo, who played the same numbers on Feb. 14 and also won Ohio's $250,000 prize for a second-place Mega Millions ticket.

California law limits lottery games to pari-mutuel prizes, meaning the amount won differs based on the number of tickets sold, said Marie Kilbane, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Lottery.

Other states have equal, flat-rate prizes for tickets that match only some of the numbers, Kilbane said.

"The only exception is California."

She said Ohio sales do not affect prize amounts in California, with the exception of the grand prize. On Tuesday, a ticket for a $265 million grand prize was sold in Cincinnati, but the winner has yet to claim it.

Only the grand prize is divided using a pari-mutuel system in all 11 states that have Mega Millions.

"With the jackpot, each state, based on sales, has to give money toward the payment of the jackpot," Kilbane said.

John Mascari plays Mega Millions when the grand prize tops $200 million. He said it doesn't seem fair that Californians can win more money for the same risk.

"It just rubs me wrong to think that different players have different rules," he said. "They should all play by the same rules."

During the past three months, however, California winners have taken home less, on average, than their Ohio counterparts. Since Feb. 3, there have been 45 secondprize Mega Millions winners in California and 18 in Ohio. On average, the California winners won $205,755.

Tuesday's drawing ended a string of four straight games in which California winners took home less than winners in other states.

On that night, 21 players from California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington owned tickets that matched five numbers but missed the Mega Ball.

Nineteen of those winners will claim a prize of $250,000. The California winners, though, will claim $348,325 before taxes, a payout nearly 40 percent higher than their counterparts.

On Feb. 10, just four days before Givens won her prize, two California winners took home $693,599 each for tickets identical to ones played by residents in five other states who claimed $250,000 each.

Givens isn't too upset. At first, she thought she had matched just three numbers, which would have given her a $7 prize. When her son told her she had matched five numbers and won $250,000, she didn't believe him.

"I said, 'Quit fibbing,' " she recalled.

Her son was telling the truth. After taxes, Givens walked away with $178,750.

Officials with the California Lottery could not be reached for comment.

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