Lotto fever rises right along with the jackpot

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The prospect of winning $1 million just isn't what it used to be.
Once upon a time people dreamed of being millionaires. Now the goal, for many, isn't to be millionaires but to earn the title of multimillionaire.
And not just any multimillionaire. It takes a jackpot like Saturday's $50 million Florida Lotto to tempt many people to hand over $1 for a chance to live on easy street.
"You would think $3 million is worth a $1 ticket," said a clerk at one Newberry Road convenience store.
But the woman said many people who play the Florida Lotto tell her a few million dollars, with today's prices, isn't worth their time or loose change.
This weekend's prize, however, is a different story, she said.
A flier, taped near the store's cash register, proclaims the jackpot. The little extra bit of advertising hasn't hurt. By about 2 p.m., the store had sold more than 200 tickets, the clerk said.
The amount is the largest the state lottery has offered in more than a year. The winning numbers Friday night were XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX.
In November 2004, a single winner became the recipient of an approximately $60 million prize, said lottery spokesman Alfred Bea.
And the higher the possible winnings, the greater the ticket sales, Bea agreed.
"The larger the jackpot, the more people play the game. We're expecting quite a few people to go out and buy lottery tickets between now and the drawing," Bea said Friday. With the extra push for tickets, additional terminals for lottery tickets are set up around the state in "high volume areas" including in North Florida near Alabama and Georgia. "We do get extra playship from inside the state but also from across the border," Bea explained.
But why? The odds of any ticket winning are 1 in 23,000,000, according to lottery officials.
And, statisticians explain, in large lotteries like this weekend's there's a greater likelihood of having to share the prize because more people play.
Bea said sales increase because, at some point, people just start imagining what they could do with all that money. "It's part of the entertainment value," he said, imagining a trip around the world or a house with 29 bathrooms.
"Yes, it does fire the imagination just being able to imagine," Bea said. Couple that with the realization that eventually someone is going to win and the allure, especially as the jackpot rises, becomes too much for some to resist.
"Just $3 million is enough for me to play." But, Bea said, "When it's larger, it grabs the attention of maybe even people who don't normally play."
"Our players know that somebody, figuratively speaking, is going to beat those odds. It could be any one of them," Bea said.
Ramon Bonilla, 54, of Gainesville calls the rush to win large lottery jackpots something other than a hope of cheating the odds.
He calls it greed. "I guess people are greedy," said the Lake City aircraft mechanic to explain why more people buy tickets for the bigger prizes.
Bonilla himself was buying lottery tickets Saturday at the same convenience store at 9303 NW 39th Ave. where a man purchased the winning ticket for a $10 million jackpot in 2002.
Hoping for a little added luck, Bonilla, a regular lottery player, spent more than usual and bought five tickets.
For 25 years, Bonilla's been playing the lottery as he has moved around the country, he said. He's never won.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or

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