By Nick Sortal
A guaranteed millionaire every week, a decent holiday present and a chance to have a very happy New Year's Eve.
Florida Lottery officials are betting that a new seven-week raffle series will attract players excited by at least one of those three facets of their new game, called 25th Anniversary Millionaire. The first drawing is Monday.
As opposed to lottery-type games, such as Powerball and the Florida Lotto — which may or may not produce a winner after a drawing — a raffle consists of selling a specific number of tickets and guaranteeing a prize. Kind of like your charity fund-raiser that awards that flat-screen TV.
In this case, each Monday through Dec. 23, players' tickets sold for that week are entered into a drawing. A searchable list of the winning ticket number and the 300 consolation prizes of $1,000 will be posted at Lottery Post's Florida Lottery Results page after 3 p.m. So if you see the dude in cubicle next to you shouting around that time, be nice to him.
But lottery officials warn to hang on to those tickets. There's a grand prize drawing on Dec. 31 for $2 million, plus 10 $100,000 winners and 550 other consolation prizes. Every ticket sold from now through Dec. 30 will be eligible.
From 2006-10, the lottery offered Millionaire Raffle games during the holidays that had one drawing for $1 million, and a "Lucky 7" raffle this May awarded $700,000 each to seven players.
"Players have been asking for another raffle, so we decided to bring Millionaire Raffle back," said Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell. "In this year's 25th Anniversary edition, we are giving players what they love about raffle games — limited tickets, limited time and great odds."
Because the game is new, ticket sales since the Nov. 6 debut seemed a little slow — and that's an advantage for the player — said Vince Maiorino, manager of News Plus in Tamarac. That's because instead of the projected average of about 142,000 tickets being in the hopper, there will be thousands fewer. And fewer tickets mean less competition for that $1 million this week.
"The odds are definitely going to be better if you buy earlier, and you may never see odds like this again," Maiorino said. "Heck, I bought two myself."
Todd Northrop, founder of national website LotteryPost.com, said Florida raffles have always been successful — always selling out all tickets before the drawing. O'Connell said if by some chance all of the 1 million raffle tickets are sold out before the drawings in, say, Week 5, then every ticket sold — even this week — is eligible for the weekly $1 million drawing in Week 6, as well as the $2 million grand prize.
Northrop, based in New Jersey, said the popularity of raffles seems to vary by state, and it does not seem to follow the size of the state or its lottery.
"For example, Massachusetts has one of the biggest and most profitable lotteries in the USA, yet they struggle to sell tickets when they conduct a raffle," he said. "Yet smaller lotteries like Wisconsin and Minnesota always sell all of their available raffle tickets each time."
Then there's the gift idea, which helps attract non-regular players, he said.
"Raffles are great around holidays because they make great gifts," he said. "So that means they are also perfect for people who don't play the lottery every day."
Whether we immediately learn the name of each week's millionaire, though, is unlikely. As is the case with most Florida lottery games, winners have 180 days to claim their ticket — upon which state law requires their name and hometown be released. Usually they take their time lining up financial advisers and lawyers — and delaying an onslaught of long-lost relatives.