El Gordo makes the pot a fat one in state lottery

Here's the latest sales pitch for your holiday shopping dollar:

Play "el Gordo" and win $10 million.


The Maryland State Lottery will unveil today a monthlong game called "el Gordo." Patterned after a Spanish lottery, it is billed as the first of its kind in the U.S.

"El Gordo" -- literally, "the Fat One" -- has a $10 million jackpot and thousands of other prizes ranging from $25 to $1 million. The odds against winning range from 100 to 1 for the $25 prize to 5 million to 1 for the jackpot.


Tickets will cost $5. Lottery officials hope they will be a popular stocking stuffer.

"El Gordo" comes as state government has undergone another round of budget cuts. It is expected to add "$8 million to $10 million-plus, depending on sales" in net revenue to state coffers, said Carroll H. Hynson Jr., lottery deputy director.

Baltimore's own "el Gordo" and Camden Yards barbecue-meister, former Oriole Boog Powell, will promote the game in an extensive advertising campaign. He appears in the ads in a spaghetti Western outfit: crossed bandoleers over a raggedy poncho, topped off by a crumpled cowboy hat.

The coming of "el Gordo" has been the subject of "teaser" ads, which mention the name of the game without explaining what it is, for nearly two weeks.

The lottery scheduled a news conference to introduce the game this morning, but yesterday the agency helped blow its own cover as "el Gordo" brochures turned up at lottery outlets.

Sales will begin Nov. 27 and end either when all tickets are sold or on Dec. 26, when the "el Gordo" drawing will take place on a special, half-hour television program.

This is how the game will work:

Five million tickets will be available for purchase from 2,000 computerized outlets statewide. The more tickets sold, the more prizes will be doled out.


Each ticket will bear a seven-digit number, from 0,000,000 to 4,999,999. The tickets will be sold in sequence. Wagerers won't be able to pick the number they play.

The player whose seven-digit number matches the number drawn for the jackpot wins the $10 million grand prize.

A different number will be drawn for each prize. If the last six digits of your number match the six-digit number drawn, you win $1 million. Match the five-digit pick, and the prize is $25,000. And so on, down to a $25 prize for matching the two-digit number chosen.

The $10 million jackpot and up to 10 second prizes of $1 million each will be paid out over 20 years in equal annual installments. All other prizes will be paid in cash.

"El Gordo" is expected to help the lottery agency contribute more than $365 million to the state's general fund in the fiscal year that began July 1.

Hard on the heels of "el Gordo" will be a new Keno game, dubbed "Quick Draw," that is set to start in January. It is projected to net $50 million in six months for the state.


Legislative critics say Maryland has become too dependent on lottery revenues and that state-sanctioned gambling preys on those who can least afford it. Neither "el Gordo" nor Keno requires legislative approval.

The Keno game, in which winning numbers are picked every five minutes all day long and displayed on special video screens, will kick off Jan. 4, Mr. Hynson said. He said it will be offered initially at 400 outlets, most of which don't now have lottery games.

Mr. Hynson said the state's gambling arm must be constantly looking for new revenue sources because "people do tire of games. It appears that games like Lotto are peaking. People don't get excited about annuitized payments of $1 million."

"El Gordo," he said, "is for people who don't have fun until we have jackpots of $10 million."