Ohio Lottery Announces State Will Apply To Join Big Game

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio will apply to join the Big Game multistate lottery, hoping to tap the potential of "astronomical" jackpots as a way of stabilizing declining profits and patching a $1.5 billion state budget deficit, the Ohio Lottery announced Monday.

Dennis Kennedy, director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, made the decision to join the Big Game over Powerball, the country's other large multistate lottery, the lottery said.

The seven-game Big Game is a better fit for Ohio than Powerball, lottery spokeswoman Mardele Cohen said. Other Big Game states -- such as Illinois, Virginia and Michigan -- are large states with similar demographics, she said. New York also recently applied to join the Big Game.

"The main thing is we're looking for the highest jackpot possibilities," Cohen said. "With the addition of Ohio and New York, you're adding about 30 million people to the game, so it's going to produce jackpots that are astronomical. We really have a chance to see some astounding numbers."

Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia play Powerball, and Pennsylvania recently applied to join Powerball. Joining the Big Game means Ohio can draw players from those states, Cohen said.

The Big Game has the largest jackpot in U.S. history -- $363 million won in May 2000. By contrast, the biggest Ohio Lottery jackpot was $54 million.

Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill in December allowing Ohio to join a multistate lottery such as Powerball or the Big Game to help erase a state budget deficit and boost sagging lottery profits.

Joining the Big Game takes a simple majority vote by other states.

"We feel very confident they're going to accept us into the game," Cohen said.

The directors of the Georgia and Michigan lotteries are expected to be in Cleveland Wednesday to discuss the Big Game, Cohen said. A spokesman for the Virginia Lottery, which also participates in the Big Game, said Ohio would likely be a welcome addition.

"Any participation from a large or medium-sized state is good for the game," said Virginia Lottery spokesman Ed Scarborough.

The announcement comes just days after an anti-gambling coalition asked a court to stop the state from expanding the Ohio Lottery to include a multistate game.

The coalition made the request Thursday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where it also has filed a lawsuit to throw out authorization for expanding the lottery.

The lawsuit argues that the Ohio Constitution permits only a lottery run exclusively by Ohio with no involvement by other states.

Those filing the lawsuit include the Ohio Roundtable, a conservative think tank in suburban Cleveland; the Roundtable's president, David Zanotti; the United Methodist Church; and the Ohio Methodist Church's gambling task force director, John Edgar.

Taft has said the multistate lottery is needed to stabilize profits, which have declined for several years. By law, all lottery profits go to education, where they make up about 6 percent of the Department of Education's budget.

During the first half of the fiscal year, ending in December, the lottery had earned $296.9 million, down from $319 million over the same period a year ago and $348 million in 1999.

In fiscal 2001, lottery profits fell for the fourth straight year and sales dropped 10 percent despite the addition of a new game.

The state estimates it can raise about $41 million a year by joining a multistate lottery. Ohio hopes the larger jackpots that the lotteries can offer will increase lottery sales.

The seven Big Game states are Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)