Aug 12, 2003, 5:21 am
A giant jackpot lottery such as Powerball or Mega Millions is likely to become part of Tennessee's buffet of games, but the heads of lotteries in Tennessee and Georgia say a possible partnership won't affect which game Tennesseans play.
Others, including the chief of the South Carolina lottery, say Georgia's membership in Mega Millions could influence Tennessee to join that game, which is not as well-known by Middle and West Tennesseans.
These big games in which states pool their prize money to offer hundred-million-dollar jackpots are one of the most popular features of lotteries.
To Tennessee's north and west, Kentucky and Missouri play the Powerball, a 24-state consortium of state lotteries. Powerball is such a recognizable brand name that it has become a generic term, much like Kleenex and Band-Aid.
East, in Virginia, and south, in Georgia, there's Mega Millions, which holds the record for the two highest multistate jackpots. Texas last week became the 11th state to join that game and will begin this fall.
''It's a separate business decision,'' Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. Chairman Denny Bottorff said, dismissing any suggestion that membership in Mega Millions would be automatic under a partnership with Georgia.
But Ernie Passailaigue, executive director of the South Carolina lottery, is among those who think there will naturally be some persuasion from Georgia.
''If you partner with Georgia, you would be swayed to join Mega Millions,'' Passailaigue said.
''If I was proffering the same deal to Tennessee, it would be important to me to have the same game,'' he said, the thinking being that Georgia would not want Tennessee to offer a competing game that draws away some of its lottery dollars.
Georgia lottery President Rebecca Paul countered Passailaigue's line of thought: ''We may want Tennessee folks crossing over if the Mega Millions jackpot is better. It might make sense to do the same game, or it might make sense to do different games.''
South Carolina's route
This time two years ago, Georgia was flirting with South Carolina's upstart lottery, much like the Peach State is courting Tennessee now. Ultimately a proposed partnership was respectfully declined in the Palmetto State.
''We wanted to maintain our independence,'' said South Carolina lottery Chairman John C.B. Smith, who was involved in the talks.
South Carolina only entertained the idea of a joint venture for a few days, mostly because state law appeared to prohibit such an alliance, Passailaigue said. Multistate games were not part of discussions, he said, and the state ultimately signed on with Powerball.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has hired a consultant to analyze the short- and long-term impact of a partnership vs. going solo. The ultimate goal is to maximize lottery revenue.
Tennessee state Rep. Chris Newton, R-Benton, who has helped spearhead lottery legislation, said, ''My gut instinct tells me you would have to go with Georgia's multistate game.''
While selecting a multistate game is usually done several months after a lottery is launched, it's something for Tennesseans to think about now, Passailaigue said.
''You have to wonder why this (partnership) hasn't been done in other states,'' he said. ''I have all the respect for Rebecca Paul, but, God bless her, she may not be there forever.''
Competition between state games will bring ''inherent conflict'' to a partnership, he said.
''You have a built-in conflict of interest. That decision ought to be made not by a partnering arrangement but for the best interest of the people of Tennessee,'' Passailaigue said.
Bottorff responded, ''If we do a joint venture, we will have the flexibility to go either with Powerball or Mega Millions. I have covered this point with Rebecca Paul. If Tennessee wants Powerball, even with a joint venture, that would be acceptable to her.''
Paul agreed, saying Tennessee would be free to select another game over Mega Millions, which she helped start in 1996 under the name the Big Game.
How games compare
Paul Bibby, a Nashville drywaller, heads up to Kentucky every two weeks to load up on Powerball tickets. Occasionally, he'll pick up Mega Millions tickets in Georgia, if he's traveling to Florida, he said.
''They're about the same. Powerball is probably easier. You can win at Powerball. On the Mega-thing, I didn't win nothing,'' said Bibby, who spends about $20 on each trip to Kentucky half of it on Powerball tickets.
Once Tennessee gets a big game, he said, he doubts he would cross the border to play a competing game.
''It wouldn't be worth the drive for it,'' he said. ''I wish they'd hurry up.''
For the most part, Powerball and Mega Millions are played the same way with tickets at a buck each.
Powerball got its beginnings in 1987 under the name Lotto America. It's a two-drum game, which Mega Millions copied.
In Powerball, one drum has 53 white balls. The other drum has 42 red balls. Players pick five white balls and one red ball, which is the ''power'' ball. If all numbers match, they've won the jackpot.
In Mega Millions, there are 52 white balls and 52 ''mega'' balls.
About 70% of Powerball players do a quick pick, in which a computer generates their number combination for them. Powerball gives players a chance to multiply other prizes up to five times but not the Powerball jackpot. Mega Millions offers no such multiplier.
''The real difference is in our name recognition,'' said Joe Mahoney, a Powerball spokesman. ''When it comes to brand awareness, Powerball is the best-known lottery in the world. People go to Mega Millions states and say, 'Give me a Powerball ticket.' ''
Mega Millions was formed by larger states with larger populations, Paul said.
Twice, both games have competed for states New York and Texas and Mega Millions got both, she said.
Mega Millions' largest jackpots hold the U.S. record $363 million in May 2000 and $331 million in April.
In both games, a certain percentage of each ticket sold goes toward the jackpot prize and the balance to the state where the ticket was purchased. States are responsible for paying lower-tier prizes for tickets purchased from their retailers.
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