Dec 4, 2003, 5:57 am
If the lines Wednesday at the "luckiest store in Texas" were any indication, lottery players were ready for the state's first day of ticket sales in the multistate Mega Millions game.
"I don't know the new game; I don't know how it's played, but I'm going to give it a try," said Manuel Franco, a 55-year-old customer from Mexico who said he had won $70,000 at the South Texas store.
"I didn't think it was going to be popular, but it's blowing up," said Oby Martinez, manager at Town & Country Lottery, which sells more tickets than any store in Texas in part to its reputation for big winnings.
Texans get their first crack at a jackpot Friday in the 11-state game. The prize grew to $44 million after no one won the $33 million prize Tuesday night.
Mega Millions sales increased throughout Wednesday as word spread about the jackpot, said Texas Lottery Commission spokeswoman Karen Kalergis. By 4:30 p.m., more than 600,000 tickets had been sold, she said. Texans also bought more than 120,000 "megaplier" numbers, which for a dollar can multiply any prizes won other than the jackpot.
Mega Millions jackpots start at $10 million and have averaged $42.3 million over the past year. The $1 tickets went on sale at 6 a.m. CST at more than 16,000 retailers statewide. The odds of winning, 1 in 43, with jackpot odds 1 in about 135 million, didn't faze the dreamers.
"You know South Texas - people are real superstitious, and this store sells a lot of winning tickets," Town & Country customer Charles Anderson said. Everyone at the coffee shop that morning was talking about the big payout, Anderson said.
Store owner Chris Curl said Town & Country benefits from being just a few miles north of Mexico, and his Mexican customers have been known to buy $1,000 worth of tickets at a time.
In far West Texas city of Canutillo, Irene Rubio of La Union, N.M., said she is excited about the new game.
"I think I would play Mega Millions," said Rubio, who regularly crosses the state line and buys lottery tickets at the Piggy Bank store. "I think you would have a better chance to win."
Richard Holland of Canutillo was among the first to buy a ticket at the Piggy Bank.
"The reason I like Mega Millions is that it's like Powerball," he said.
Powerball, another multistate lottery game is played in New Mexico.
"But it's closer to home; I usually run over to Santa Teresa to buy one," said Holland, who anticipated no more drives to New Mexico to buy Powerball tickets.
Adriana Ramirez, an assistant manager at the Piggy Bank, said there have been few purchases of the new tickets early on, but she has received inquiries about how the game works.
Texas joins Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Washington in Mega Millions drawings. Multistate lottery games are designed to generate jackpots into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Participating states get a cut of the tickets sold within their borders, and Texas plans to use its proceeds to benefit schools. the Texas Lottery Commission estimates a five-year-average of $121.6 million in net revenue from Mega Millions.
Last year, $888 million from all lottery sales in Texas was transferred to the Texas Foundation School Fund. Lottery officials estimate that Mega Millions will generate an additional $92 million for the fund by the end of this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.
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