Michigan, Illinois, Boast Big Game Winners

Wednesday, May 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UTICA, Mich. (AP) — Winning tickets in the Big Game lottery were sold in Michigan and Illinois, officials announced today, dashing the hopes of millions whose frenzied buying in seven states pushed the jackpot to a record $363 million.

Michigan Lottery officials said they were contacted today by a man they believe holds one of the winning tickets.

The man didn't identify himself, but the validation numbers he recited from his ticket matched the winner, lottery spokeswoman Sarah Lapshan said.

``I'm pretty confident this is the winning ticket. I just don't like to say this is the winner until they're here,'' Lapshan said. ``We don't consider it validated until it's in our hands.''

She said the caller was ``remarkably quite calm'' for a potential jackpot winner. The caller didn't say where he was from or whether he was part of a group of people who purchased the ticket.

That winning ticket was sold at Mr. K's Party Shoppe near Utica, 20 miles north of Detroit. Owner George Kassab and four sons were so thrilled that they opened up at 6 a.m., three hours early.

``I'm very excited — I'm happy for the winner,'' Kassab said. ``I was hoping it was me. I bought a few tickets.''

The other winning ticket was sold at Sweeney's Citgo in the northwestern Chicago suburb of Lake Zurich, Ill. Assistant manager Ginny Gallagher said lottery officials called her at 7 a.m.

``I screamed at the girl on the phone, I was so excited,'' Gallagher said. The store has sold about $100,000 worth of Big Game tickets in the past few weeks.

Illinois Lottery officials said they had not been contacted by anyone claiming to be the winner, who purchased the ticket Tuesday and let the computer select the number.

But the gas station owner also was a big winner. Lori Montana, director of the Illinois Lottery, presented John Sweeney with an oversized check for $1.81 million, representing a 1 percent commission on half the jackpot.

``We're going to have a nice party'' for the employees, Sweeney said.

Because rules vary by state, Michigan Lottery officials will give Kassab only $2,000.

Michigan Lottery Commissioner Don Gilmer called that amount ``very fair,'' given the ``enormous amount of publicity'' the store will get.

But Kassab's family was disappointed. ``It's a slap on the face,'' Kassab's son Mark said.

The winning numbers drawn Tuesday night in Atlanta were 1, 2, 12, 33, 37 and Big Money Ball 4. To win, a ticket had to match all six numbers — odds of one in more than 76 million.

While the drawings are held in Atlanta, results are handled by the individual state lotteries participating in the Big Game, including Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

By 7 a.m., officials had confirmed that the only winning tickets were the two sold in the Midwest.

``At least I only lost a dollar,'' said Robert Holland, a bartender at the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge.

Others weren't as lucky. Some players plopped down hundreds of dollars in the hopes of becoming instant millionaires. Others pooled their money with co-workers and friends to buy more chances.

The world lottery record is $1.2 billion, set in December by Spain's El Gordo, or the Fat One. But that game awards thousands of prizes.

The Big Game jackpot easily topped the previous American record, a $295.7 million Powerball jackpot split by 13 machinists in Westerville, Ohio, two years ago.

The amounts the winners will take home depends on state taxes in Michigan and Illinois. Michigan's Gilmer estimated that state's winner would get $7 million a year — $135,000 a week — over the next 26 years, before taxes.

``We're glad it's over with,'' Gilmer added. ``The jackpot got to almost unrealistic heights.''

The excitement surrounding the game had people lined up at gas stations and convenience stores for days. In Virginia, so many people tried to access the lottery's Web site that the server crashed.

Some people in Georgia and Massachusetts almost didn't get a chance to pick their numbers because damaged phone lines shut down hundreds of lottery terminals.

Problems with BellSouth phone lines closed about 370 retailers in northeast Georgia until Tuesday afternoon. The problem was worse in southeastern Massachusetts, where an accidentally cut fiber-optic cable disabled between 750 and 1,000 lottery agents.

The hype created other problems — for compulsive gamblers. Alcoholics can avoid bars, but compulsive gamblers have a hard time avoiding lottery advertisements, news stories and talk around the office water cooler.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, said hard-core gamblers — who make up about 1 percent to 2 percent of the adult population — play because of an overwhelming need to gamble, not because of the size of the jackpot.


On the Net:

Big Game: http://www.theofficialbiggame.com