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Small prizes trump long odds

WEST PALM BEACH — Sometimes it's about winning, no matter how small the prize.

As unemployment, foreclosures and bailouts rise, more Florida Lottery players are choosing games with better odds and smaller prizes, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of lottery ticket sales during the past year.

Sales of Cash 3, the number-drawing game that offers the best odds and jackpots up to $500, have dropped only slightly in the past year. Revenue from scratchoff games — with odds as low as 1 in 10 — is up 3.2 percent.

"When people win $1 or $2 or $20, they feel good about themselves, and people need to feel good about themselves in this economy," said Gail Howard, a former stockbroker and commodities analyst who has written five books on playing the lottery. "They want instant gratification."

Meanwhile, sales of Lotto and Powerball games, which have big jackpots but long odds, have dipped along with the economy.

Revenue from Florida Lotto, the pick-six game, is down a third from the same time last year — from $74 million to $48.7 million. Even the much-hyped, multistate, mega-jackpot Powerball game has dropped since its premiere in January. In three months, Powerball sales went from $45.7 million to $34.7 million.

That could be because the size of the jackpot drives Powerball and Lotto sales. Powerball sales fell off after an Indiana player won $163 million on Jan. 17.

"A lot of people won't buy a Powerball ticket until the jackpot hits $100 million," Howard said. "They just have this thing."

Until now, Florida's lottery has grown steadily over the past 10 years, even during the recession of 2001. But new estimates predict lottery revenue will drop nearly 5 percent this year.

"Obviously, the economy is a big factor," said Jackie Barreiros, the Florida Lottery's public affairs director, who added that officials began seeing a decline last summer when gas prices spiked.

"Who wants to spend another dollar when you just spent $50 on gas?" Barreiros said.

To attract new players and introduce new games, lottery officials used a strategy that is always popular in tough times: coupons.

Last month, 7.8 million households in Florida received a flashy four-page insert in their newspapers that included six coupons for lottery tickets. Four of the coupons were for scratchoff tickets: buy one, get one free; buy two, get two free; and $2 and $5 off the higher-priced scratchoff tickets.

Two other coupons offered deals on Fantasy 5 and Mega Money.

So far, more than 1.5 million coupons have been redeemed.

Small prizes trump long odds 04/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 11:07pm]
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