Millions of California lottery enthusiasts, anxious to beat the 1-in-135 million odds of winning the upcoming Mega Millions jackpot, may find some of their least-favorite politicians crushing their dreams of wealth.
The chairman of California's Senate Governmental Organization Committee has asked the Legislature's attorneys whether the Lottery Commission has the constitutional authority to join the multistate Mega Millions game later this year.
If the commission's authority is questionable, the matter may be put to a test in the Legislature, lawmakers said Thursday.
"There are more questions than answers," Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, said Thursday of the lottery's plans to join the 3-year-old Mega Millions.
In Mega Millions, players pay $1 to pick six numbers from 1 to 52 to match those drawn twice weekly. Bets are currently pooled from the states of New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.
A Mega Millions jackpot shattered records when it hit $363 million in May 2002, while the competing multistate Powerball's largest jackpot has been $315 million. California's biggest jackpot has been $193 million.
The languishing California Lottery, which voters approved in 1984 to benefit public education, decided last month to link its operation with Mega Millions.
But earlier this month, Florez held an informational hearing on the California Lottery Commission's decision to join Mega Millions. In the wake of that hearing, his aides disclosed Thursday that the senator requested a formal opinion from the Legislative Counsel's Office on whether the lottery-authorizing constitutional amendment allows the commission to make such a unilateral move.
A spokesman for the legal office declined comment, saying the opinion, when completed, will remain confidential. The senator can choose to make it public.
Florez spokeswoman Jennifer Hanson said that if the opinion questions the Lottery Commission's authority, it may lead to legislation.
Former lottery director Chon Gutierrez, tapped by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to oversee the games again, said the Lottery Commission clearly has the authority to make the change and is moving ahead.
"We haven't picked a date yet, but it will be soon," he said.
The state plans to continue its SuperLotto Plus, though sales are expected to decrease with the introduction of the larger Mega Millions. But officials predicted overall lottery sales in California will rise.
Proceeds from the new game would be divided, as is lottery income currently. By law, half of sales must be used for jackpots, schools get 34 percent and up to 16 percent can go to administration.