Once, the biggest dreams in Texas only cost a buck.
Now, Texas Lottery officials are upping the ante on instant miracles to $50.
That's the price of the state's newest scratch-off game, dubbed $130 Million Spectacular, which goes on sale Monday and offers nearly $134 million in prizes, including three grand prizes of $5 million.
A $50 game is the highest price for a scratch-off in the nation, according to lottery data. Kansas introduced the first $50 ticket two years ago and Michigan also will launch one on Monday. Compare that to California, where the most expensive scratch-off ticket is $5. In New York, it's $20.
Officials in Texas evidently believe their new game will do well; they're printing 3.7 million of the $50 tickets and are planning to soon introduce a second $50 game.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said the introduction of higher-priced games reflected an arms race among states for gambling dollars.
After Texas voters approved the creation of the state lottery, tickets for the agency's first game - a scratch-off called Lone Star Millions - sold for $1 apiece. Players now choose among online games and 80 or so popular scratch-offs, which have become the agency's meat and potatoes, generating $2.8 billion in sales last year.
The agency offered its first $3 scratch-off in 1997. By 2000, it had a $10 game; a $20 game in 2002 and a $30 game in 2004. Last year, $1 scratch-off tickets accounted for just 11 percent of all scratch-off sales, while nearly a third came from tickets priced between $10 and $30.
The $50 game comes with a 63 percent chance of losing.
Those odds won't deter Mike Swain, 44, a driver for a moving company who picked up $4 worth of scratch-offs in East Austin this week.
"I'll try it. I definitely could try it once. Sometimes I have $50 extra," he said.
Swain, who estimates taking home between $1,800 and $2,000 a month, said he plays scratch-off games daily, plopping down $4 to $6 at a time.
Gerald Busald, a math professor at San Antonio College who analyzes lottery practices, had this advice for those itching to wager 50 bucks on a single ticket: Don't.
"You can have the same dream for $1 that you can for $20 or $30 or $50," he said. "You're not going to win."
Of course, it's the exceptions that fuel the dreams that last year pulled in a cool $3.8 billion from all the Texas lottery games. If all tickets to the new game were sold, state coffers would net $51 million after the commission pays out $134 million in prizes.
Before launching the $50 game, the Lottery Commission surveyed frequent scratch-off players to find out how much they'd be willing to gamble in one shot. The survey didn't examine customer income levels to learn the demographics of likely $50 players, and it didn't examine how the games might affect problem gamblers.
"Scratch-off tickets are an impulse purchase and $50 is a lot of money for the state to have its citizens wager on an impulse," said Rob Kohler, a lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission, an arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which opposes gambling.
Robert Heith, a spokesman for the Texas Lottery Commission, said the agency has one overriding mission: "What we do is run a business for the state of Texas. ... We have to produce products that our players want to purchase."
William Scott, 64, a custodian in Austin who works two jobs and said he often spends $120 a day on lottery games, is eager to try his luck on the $50 game. "I play all of them."
Some facts and figures from the Texas Lottery Commission's new $50 scratch-off game, called "$130 Million Spectacular."
- Total prizes: $134 million
- Number of prizes worth at least $1 million: 9
- Number of prizes worth at least $1,000: 5,700
Odds of winning
|$5 million ||1 in 1.2 million |
|$1 million ||1 in 618,000 |
|$50,000 ||1 in 185,000 |
|$1,000 ||1 in 866 |
|$500 ||1 in 300 |
|$100 ||1 in 20 |
|$50 ||1 in 6.7 |
Other big scratch-off games introduced in Texas
- 2002: $20 Holiday Million
- 2004: $25 Run The Table
- 2004: $30 Holiday Millions Wishes