Come Friday, California residents will no longer have to endure wimpy, yawn-producing California SuperLotto Plus jackpots that start at $7 million.
State residents soon will be able to plunk down a dollar for a shot at the kind of winnings that could put them into the San Diego housing market.
The state has joined the multistate lottery game Mega Millions. Tickets go on sale Wednesday for the first drawing, which is Friday.
And look out.
Mega Millions produced the nation's largest jackpot – $363 million – in May 2000, with a pair of Midwest winners sharing the prize. It's conceivable, now that California has raised the number of states in Mega Millions to 12, that a jackpot could reach half a billion dollars.
That's a "B" – as in you can tell your boss to take a flying leap.
Mega Millions' jackpots start at $12 million and swell as people pay into the pot. They roll over if no one wins the dough, which is routine. The odds of winning are, well, just a bit steep. With California added, they will become 176 million-to-1. You're much more likely to date a supermodel. That's about 88,000-to-1, says the book "Life: The Odds."
Winning California's Super Lotto Plus even seems easy in comparison. Those odds are 41 million-to-1.
Regardless, Jeff Moseby, for one, plans to play. He was buying California Lottery tickets recently when the jackpot was $12 million. There was no line for tickets, because, really, what's $12 mil?
"I'd give it a try," he said. "Why not?"
And count in Alpine's Jim Murphy, who was part of a pool of seven players who once won a Super Lotto Plus jackpot. They each received $1.3 million.
"Somebody's got to win," Murphy said, noting that he did.
California is jumping into the multistate game because its lotto game doesn't regularly produce jaw-dropping jackpots, and sales have grown flat. It's called "jackpot fatigue."
"It's got to be around $40 (million) or $50 million, that's when people get excited," said Ansara Gilbert, a clerk at a 7-Eleven in Midtown, where Moseby was buying his tickets.
The state lottery tried to inject more excitement into Super Lotto Plus five years ago. It noticed that more people played when jackpots grew, so the game was changed to move the odds from 18 million-to-1 to the current 41 million-to-1.
And while some jackpots did become eye-popping – the record is $193 million, in February 2002 – the game can't match Mega Millions. Some of the nation's biggest states – New York, Illinois, Michigan, Texas – are involved. Players in the participating states all have a shot at the jackpot.
Mega Millions wanted California to join for obvious reasons. This is the nation's most populous state, boasting 35 million people.
Lottery officials estimate that $100 million jackpots will become fairly routine, happening as often as 17 times a year. The jackpot's size is a bit deceiving. It's based on years of annual, interest-fueled payments. Players can opt for the immediate cash value, though, which is about half of the jackpot size.
Mega Millions, formally called The Big Game, was created in 1996 when six state lotteries joined to create one super-jackpot game. Another multistate game, Powerball, also exists.
Both tapped players' excitement for enormous payouts. Arizona, for instance, is part of Powerball, and when jackpots shot up, some San Diego folks drove 170 miles through the scorching desert to play in Yuma.
"We've been talking about Mega Millions for some time," said Rosa Escutia, a California Lottery spokeswoman.
Mega Millions might not be a game for Jack Whittaker, though.
On Dec. 25, 2002, he won a $314 million Powerball jackpot, the biggest single win for a player in the United States. He didn't move to Easy Street. He's been charged twice with drunken driving, is being sued in an assault and had a half-million bucks stolen from his sport utility vehicle.
He's been besieged by calls and letters for money, news accounts have said.
His wife told the Charleston Gazette of West Virginia that she wished he would have just torn up the lottery ticket.
While lotteries have been around for decades and created countless millionaires, they have not routinely put ordinary folks into Trump-land overnight.
With mega multistate prizes, they can.
Last week, Powerball gave a man from Boise, Idaho, the means probably to buy most of Boise. He was the single winner at $220 million.
"Winning that kind of money would challenge anyone's coping skills," said H. Roy Kaplan, a professor at the University of South Florida who wrote a book on lottery winners.
"They're going to be different people."
Kaplan found that people generally function the way they did before they won. If they were conservative and deliberate, they had the tendency to remain so. But his study was done years ago and focused on players who won several million. Mega Millions and Powerball kind of money is a different story, he said.
"They're going to be in the limelight."
Winning such huge jackpots "can be good, but it's very hard to make it good," said Susan Bradley, who runs the Sudden Money Institute in Florida. She founded the organization in 1999 to help lottery winners deal with the financial and psychological aspects of winning.
"Suddenly you're in the highest financial stratus in the globe. Of course it alters you. What you were is over."
Divorce, family fights, depression – all of that can come just as easily as Bentleys, world travel, $1,000 bottles of wine.
Family, friends and outside organizations can hound winners for money. Phone numbers? They're unlisted. Sometimes, winners have to move.
The media tend to pick up on the "unsuccessful winner," but Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland State Lottery and president of the Mega Millions Group, said many winners come claiming their prizes with tax attorneys and financial advisers in tow. They're savvy and prepared.
"The great majority have handled it well," he said.
Not everybody is thrilled with the idea of California joining Mega Millions and giving people even more ways to lose their money.
It's not as if the California Lottery lacks for games. It features Super Lotto Plus, Fantasy Five, the Daily 3 and Hot Spot and also sells a host of scratchers, such as "Rainbow Riches," "Fat Cat" and "Lovin' Money."
Critics contend that the poor are most often enticed to play. And Mega Millions is even a worse deal, said Sacramento's Harvey Chinn, a board member of The National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.
"The odds are shameful. The state is selling a product that works only because nearly all citizens must lose."
Gambling, from casino games to lotteries, takes away from businesses as well, he said. People lose money and can't afford to buy everyday goods and necessities.
Even some lottery players are turned off by a multistate game. Deanna McCartney, who was buying Super Lotto Plus tickets recently, used to live in a state where Powerball was offered. And she didn't like it.
"Too many people play," she said. "I never saw anybody win it."
She plans to continue to play Super Lotto Plus.
The call for California to join Mega Millions came from the California Performance Review, created by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to investigate government efficiency and figure out ways to boost revenue.
State lottery officials hope the addition of Mega Millions will increase overall lottery sales. Players might be enticed to buy a ticket for another game in addition to the super jackpot. It is estimated that sales could increase by $300 million to $500 million annually. Last year, the lottery had $2.93 billion in sales, but the yearly tallies haven't been growing substantially. In 2001, sales were $2.89 billion.
The state Lottery Commission approved the Mega Millions plan in February. It is sticking with that decision despite an opinion issued last week by the Legislature's attorney saying the move could violate the 1984 law that authorized the lottery. The law specifies that all lottery games played in California be run by the state.
Like all lottery money raised in California, the Mega Millions money will go to education. Schools get 34 percent, while winners get the bulk of the rest. A portion goes to run the lottery.
But critics say the money from Mega Millions is insignificant compared with the overall education budget – $55.8 billion – and not worth bringing another game onboard.
Roogow, the Mega Millions director, defended the game, saying it attracts people from all demographics. Most only spend $3 on it, he said.
Players realize that the odds are astronomical and don't play expecting to win. They form pools at work, with dozens chipping in. It's a form of entertainment, he said.
People play it because they're intrigued by the fantasy of winning such a jackpot, he said. When the jackpot hits triple digits, "even people who are opposed to gambling play," he said.
How high will this go, though?
The current record of $363 million might look like chump change once California joins. And other states can follow the Golden State and get involved in Mega Millions, too, pumping up the game even more.
And what's stopping Mega Millions and Powerball from joining to create an ultimate jackpot game? Forty-one states now have lotteries.
Could a billion-dollar jackpot be in the future?
"It's worth discussion," Roogow said.
But is it worth a buck?
Playing Mega Millions