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Bye-bye, bonus ball

The much-maligned bonus ball of the Texas Lottery is officially kaput.

Starting in late April, players will choose six numbers between 1 and 54 rather than five numbers between 1 and 44 and one bonus ball from 1 to 44. That will return the odds of winning the jackpot to 1 in 25.8 million, down from 1 in 47.8 million with the bonus ball.

Already sluggish sales fell even more after the bonus ball was added, lottery staff said. So far this fiscal year, a higher percentage of ticket sales have gone to the twice-daily Pick 3 game than to Lotto Texas, which once was by far the state’s highest-selling online game, commission chairman C. Thomas Clowe said.

“I think the handwriting’s on the wall,” Clowe said. “We’ve got to do what we can.”

Clowe blamed several factors for the decline in sales, from the growing popularity of Internet gambling to the prevalence of casinos in nearby states. Players also are increasingly drawn to the huge jackpots offered by Mega Millions and Powerball, he said, and are less likely to play for smaller prizes.

In an effort to build big jackpots more quickly — and therefore sell more tickets — the commission will devote a higher percentage of sales to the top prize and pay less to winners matching three, four or five numbers than it did in the old game involving 54 numbers. For example, players matching three of six numbers will win $3 rather than $5.

Lottery watchdog Dawn Nettles opposed the changes adopted Monday, saying that style of play already failed to draw customers and would fail again. She said players aren’t as concerned about high jackpots as Clowe maintained, but they won’t play for pocket change.

“The people are going to boycott this game, and I’m going to see to it that they do,” said Nettles, who also opposes the concept of guaranteed prizes, saying players should instead win a set percentage of sales.

Nettles of course also opposed the bonus ball, which led me to wonder when I first read this if she’s ever happy. Her objections are more clearly articulated in this Star-Telegram story.

Nettles said that the players who submitted comments to her made clear that even though they might despise the bonus ball; they do not necessarily endorse all aspects of the plan to replace it.

She said that under the original configuration, 5.07 percent of every dollar taken in ticket sales went to the prize pool for second-place winners. That meant all of the players who hit five of six numbers shared equally in that prize pool and the payoff was often more than $2,500.

Under the proposed new rule, Nettles added, 2.23 percent of ticket sales would be earmarked for the second-place winners. Therefore, if ticket sales were sufficient to pay $2,500 to the five-of-six winners under the old rule, there would be only enough money to pay about $1,900 under the proposed rule.

The prize amounts for those who match four of six would be cut by about half. Matching three numbers under the old method guaranteed a player $5; that would be cut to $3 under the latest proposal.

Seems reasonable enough. You’re much more likely to hit a lower-end prize in this lifetime, so it may as well be worth something.

The two-man commission discussed the issue for more than four hours, debating a variety of proposals, including the lottery’s original form when players chose six numbers from 1 to 50. While that setup would return more money to players, the commissioners said that would happen at the expense of the Foundation School Fund, where revenues from lottery games go.

“We can’t make everybody happy, but the thing I think the commissioners have to protect is that fiduciary responsibility to the state,” Clowe said. “That’s part of the integrity that we have signed on to discharge.”

Too bad about not reverting to the old-style pick-six-of-fifty game. Though I still think that the Lottery is a dead man walking and no slick advertising blitz can change that, I also agree with the first commenter here that there was goodwill to be mined from going back to the original game. Alas.

UPDATE: I drafted this last night when the AP story was on the Chron site. Today they have their own story, which has more detail.

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One Comment

  1. Tim says:

    Personally, I think state lotteries are dying a slow death, being replaced by Powerball and Mega Millions.

    When is the last time you heard a lot of buzz about the jackpot in the Texas lottery? Since Mega Millions came here, I don’t think I can recall any such time.