State Prepares To Start Multistate Lottery Sales Despite Lawsuit - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

State Prepares To Start Multistate Lottery Sales Despite Lawsuit

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Matt Panov, whose downtown convenience store sees a steady stream of Ohio Lottery players, says he and his customers are ready for the next step -- multistate ticket sales.

Beginning Wednesday, Ohioans for the first time won't need to cross a state line to play a multistate game. Tickets for Mega Millions, which until then is called the Big Game, go on sale that day. The first drawing involving Ohio players is Friday.

Lottery opponents, who say state lotteries make money off the poor, argue that adding a multistate game makes a bad situation worse. Supporters say the new game is needed to make Ohio's lottery profits more stable and keep ticket sales in state.

"A lot of them go out of state buying tickets, so they spend money there they might as well spend here," said Panov, 50, owner of the High and Broad Market.

Gov. Bob Taft and state lawmakers approved Ohio's participation in a multistate game last December to help patch a $1.5 billion deficit. The state hopes to raise about $41 million a year from multistate lottery sales.

Taft says Mega Millions is necessary to stabilize Ohio's lottery profits, which last year fell for the fourth straight year.

By law, all lottery profits go to the Ohio Department of Education, making up about 6 percent of the department's budget.

Church groups and anti-gambling activists, including the public advocacy group Ohio Roundtable, have sued over the state's decision to join the multistate game.

The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, argues that the Ohio Constitution permits only a lottery run exclusively by Ohio with no involvement by other states.

A similar lawsuit was filed in New York state, which also joins Mega Millions next week.

One of the attractions of the former Big Game to state officials was the size of its jackpots, which included a $331 million prize last month. Its largest jackpot was $363 million in May 2000.

The average jackpot will be $80 million, but some will get close to $500 million, lottery officials said. The odds of winning are one in 135 million.

By contrast, the Super Lotto Plus game's $75 million jackpot awarded in mid-April was an Ohio Lottery record.

Big jackpots drive sales. The Georgia Lottery, where the Big Game and now Mega Millions are based, had $199 million in Big Game sales in 1999 and $216 million in 2000 because of large jackpots. Sales dropped to $141 million in 2001, when there were fewer big prizes.

That decrease doesn't worry Rebecca Paul, president of the Georgia Lottery. Adding new lottery products is a way to ensure steady sales, she said.

With Mega Millions, Ohio will offer seven games, including instant scratch-off cards.

If a state has only one game, "and that game has ups or downs, as any one game may, then you tend to not be able to produce a steady revenue stream for important programs," Paul said. "The more games you have, the more opportunity you have to continue that steady revenue source."

Lottery critics say adding a multistate game is just another way for states to profit from those least able to afford it.

"The state is still finding a way to make their product more attractive and therefore encouraging behavior which it knows in the case of some of its citizens is detrimental to their social and political and economic lives," said Jay Mason, a political science professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., and author of the book "Governing Gambling."

Economists who have studied lotteries have concluded that the games cannot stay profitable without sales to those who play frequently but can't really afford to, Mason said.

Michelle Davis of Columbus bought Ohio Lottery tickets for her mother Friday at Panov's convenience store. She said her mother also will probably purchase Mega Millions tickets.

"She really doesn't care for the people who are trying to stop it," Davis said. "She thinks people really are responsible for their own gambling and they ought to be able to control themselves."

Davis herself is strongly opposed to the lottery.

"When you're playing the lottery, it's trying to depend on yourself instead of depending on God to bring you through and relying on him to get you what you need," she said.

Other states in the former Big Game are Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

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

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