LOTTO FEVER; EVEN SKEPTICS CAN'T RESIST $40 MILLION PRIZE.
A self-proclaimed Super Lotto skeptic, John Wurts plays only when the pot is big. On Friday, he played 52 times.
With an unusually high $40 million at stake for tonight's drawing, Wurts and thousands of other lottery naysayers couldn't help themselves, lining up to buy tickets alongside the office pool representatives and other Lotto regulars.
``Only a fool would play a Lotto ticket,'' Wurts joked after collecting a fistful of quick picks from a clerk at a Woodland Hills 7-Eleven.
It's the largest jackpot since another $40 million prize a year ago, but far from the record of $118 million set in April 1991. Regardless of the size, the odds of picking the right six numbers are the same - 1 in 18,009,460.
Tonight's jackpot is a landmark: For the first time since the contest started in 1986, the winner or winners must choose to receive their payment in one lump sum, instead of the 26 annual payments.
There's just one catch. If you check the box for the lump-sum payment, it will be less than the $40 million because the jackpot is based on what the state would have earned in interest over 26 years.
``A very rough estimate would be half the amount,'' California State Lottery spokeswoman Norma Minas said. Taking the money in 26 increasing payments, however, would give you $40 million.
If the $40 million jackpot goes to one winner who picks the long-term plan, that person would get $1 million the first year, with the annual payment increasing slightly until the $2.04 million payout on the 26th year.
The numbers will be posted at 7:57 p.m. Tickets must be bought by 7:45 p.m. Harginder Singh, who manages the 7-Eleven at Fallbrook Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, said a local man won part of a $23 million jackpot at his store several years ago.
``He never came back to thank me,'' Singh said.
In a pastime full of superstitions, tips from fortune cookies and intricate picks involving pro athletes' jersey numbers and children's birthdays, Wurts lets the computer pick for him, and says he only plays when the jackpot is big.
He came close to winning last week, correctly picking four of six on one of his tickets. Most of the $83 he won went back to Lotto tickets for tonight's jackpot.
``Well, once the jackpot gets over $17 million, the amount that's paid out is over the amount that's paid in,'' he theorized. ``I'll let the Lotto pay my way for this one.''
Paul Sherman of Woodland Hills said he buys tickets twice every week, adding, ``It doesn't matter if the jackpot's $40 million or $3 million.''
Sherman correctly picked five out of six numbers a few years ago, earning about $4,000, but he figures he's lost a lot more than that over the years.
``They don't let you win - they're smart,'' he said.
Sherman received little solace when informed that some of that money might have gone to help California schools. ``That's good, I guess.''
BIGGEST JACKPOT: $118 million on April 17, 1991. It was split among 10 winning tickets in which 54 winners had a share.
FAST FACTS: The California State Lottery began in 1985, offering the Lotto game a year later. The current jackpot, $40 million, is the largest since April 1997. The drawing is 7:57 tonight, tickets must be purchased by 7:45 p.m.
BIGGEST SINGLE-TICKET WINNER: $51 million to Augustine Chairenza on June 18, 1994. Ticket was purchased in Lompoc.
PHOTO (Color) Harginder Singh, manager of a 7-Eleven in Woodland Hills, feeds Lotto numbers into the machine Friday.
Myung J. Chun/Daily News