Players are letting the Texas Lottery Commission know in sometimes blunt and colorful language that they want the "bonus ball" to be bounced out of the Lotto game.
The panel that oversees lottery operations is expected to vote next week on a proposal to return the game to a format resembling the one that was thrown out a little more than three years ago because officials were concerned about its profitability. But they ran into a problem when the new game proved to be about 30 percent less profitable than the old.
The commission has received more than 1,400 e-mails on the back-to-the-future plan for Lotto, many endorsing the proposed changes in large part because it would kill the bonus ball.
"The idiot who made the present system ... should be fired for his/her arrogant stupidity," wrote Paul Ferreira of Grand Prairie.
Larry Powell of Dallas came at the issue from an opposite point of view, but arrived at pretty much the same conclusion.
"I don't know who came up with dropping the bonus ball, but I say let's run 'em for governor," Powell wrote. "It's the best idea for the state since paving the roads."
State law requires that any changes to such lottery games as Lotto, Pick 3 and Cash 5 must be published for public review and comment. The comments were made available to the Star-Telegram after an open records request was filed.
Lottery officials have been grappling with sluggish sales in the 13-year-old Lotto game since the late 1990s. The game is fairly simple: Players select a set of numbers, or allow a computer to do so for them, and hope that they match numbers that are drawn twice weekly. Players can win a jackpot that starts at $4 million and usually rises each time no one wins it. Players who match three or more numbers win smaller prizes.
When Lotto debuted in late 1992, players selected six numbers from 1 through 50, and the game caught on quickly as jackpots soared into the tens of millions of dollars. When the novelty died down, ticket sales cooled and the jackpots climbed at a slower pace. That prompted the lottery commission in 2000 to boost the numbers in play to 54, which increased the odds against winning but increased the jackpot.
It worked for a time, but by 2002, the renewed Lotto fever was again replaced by Lotto lethargy. That's when the bonus ball surfaced.
In February 2003, Lotto players were required to match five numbers from one field of 44, and match the bonus ball number from a second field of 44 to win the jackpot.
With the odds climbing from about 1 in 25 million to about 1 in 48 million, officials were expecting stratospheric jackpots and astronomic ticket sales.
Alas, the new Lotto rocket sputtered like a dud.
Now competing with the high-jackpot multi-state game, Mega Millions, Lotto ticket sales cratered by 30 percent. Lottery Commission Chairman C. Thomas Clowe, once an enthusiastic booster of the bonus ball, foreshadowed its expected demise.
"If I had known we were going to lose 30 percent of our player base, I never would have voted to make that change," Clowe said at a lottery commission meeting late last year. "To just give away 30 percent of our market was a mistake."
Or as Dennis Kochanski of San Antonio wrote: "You should have just left it alone. Stop [messing] with the lottery."
Under the rule up for consideration at the lottery commission meeting Monday, Lotto would be reconfigured back to the original six of 54 matrix.
Dawn Nettles, a frequent critic of the Texas Lottery, has been warning officials since 1999 that changes to the game would only anger loyal players without spicing up sales.
"This sounds like an 'I told you so,' but I did tell them so," Nettles said. "The players were never going to like the way they changed the game."
Nettles said that she heard from players who made clear that even though they might despise the bonus ball; they do not necessarily endorse all aspects of the plan to replace it.
She said that under the original configuration, 5.07 percent of every dollar taken in ticket sales went to the prize pool for second-place winners. That meant all of the players who hit five of six numbers shared equally in that prize pool and the payoff was often more than $2,500.
Under the proposed new rule, 2.23 percent of ticket sales would be earmarked for the second-place winners. Therefore, if ticket sales were sufficient to pay $2,500 to the five-of-six winners under the old rule, there would be only enough money to pay about $1,900 under the proposed rule.
The prize amounts for those who match four of six would be cut by about half. Matching three numbers under the old method guaranteed a player $5; that would be cut to $3 under the latest proposal.