Ohio lottery officials hit the jackpot yesterday, as Mega Millions fever brought in about $148,000 an hour for the state.
The multi-state game was already outperforming fiscal year 2003 levels, according to Ohio Lottery Commission officials, and the recent surge of sales due to Friday's $222 million jackpot has helped the state's bottom line even more.
"Everything seems to be falling in place for us," said Mardele Cohen, spokeswoman for the Ohio Lottery Commission. "We needed a big winner in Ohio, and we got that in December. We needed continual jackpot rolls, and we've had a number of them.
"We've been very pleased with the performance of this game."
Mega Millions brought in slightly more than expected -- about $176 million -- in fiscal year 2003, the first full 12 months the state operated the game.
That was also the first time in seven years the commission saw significant increases in its ticket sales and total revenue.
And Cohen said this fiscal year's profits already are outpacing last year.
State lawmakers approved entering a multistate game in late 2001 to help plug a $1.7 billion budget deficit. Lottery profits are earmarked for education under the state Constitution, but the new profits were used mainly to free up funding for other parts of the budget.
Last fiscal year total revenues for the commission were up nearly 6 percent over 2001 levels. That's despite sluggish sales from the Super Lotto Plus game, which has dropped more than 38 percent in the last two years as it gets overshadowed by the newer, bigger Mega Millions game.
Lottery officials had expected that dramatic decline in Super Lotto sales, but say profits from Mega Millions have more than made up for that shortfall.
Sen. Bill Harris, R-Ashland, criticized the multi-state lottery plan in 2001 and said he is still not convinced the Mega Millions game profits will make up for the state-run game losses.
"And personally I don't think this is a great way of funding schools," he said. "I wish we had a different way. But if you look at the mega lottery from the perspective of additional dollars now, I guess it has been a win."
The lottery commission allocated about $641 million for education funding last fiscal year. A 2003 study showed Ohio is 13th in the country in lottery games spending per capita, with the average citizen buying $183 in tickets a year.