Lottery players flocking to buy 'el Gordo' tickets Fat payoff spurs first-day sales

The Fat One made a lot of Marylanders' wallets a little thinne yesterday.

El Gordo, the lottery's latest gimmick for patching the state's budget by dangling the prospect of easy millions before its citizenry, got off to a brisk beginning. More than 190,000 of the 5 million, $5 tickets offered in the new game were sold by early evening on el Gordo's first day.


"I'll take a crack at it," said Jack Zimmerman, 62, plunking down his money at the Hollinsworth Shoe Center, a combination footwear store, check-cashing service and lottery outlet on West Patapsco Avenue in Baltimore. "I just feel lucky."

When mysterious teaser television ads promoting the new game began a few weeks ago, Mr. Zimmerman said, he figured "el Gordo" -- "the fat one" in Spanish -- must be a new kind of beer.


"And if it was a beer, I'd have spent this money on that," said Mr. Zimmerman, a retired construction worker from Lansdowne.

Each of the tickets in el Gordo, based on a Spanish lottery game, bears a seven-digit number from 0,000,000 to 4,999,999.

They are sold in numerical order, so the purchaser cannot choose his number.

The game will end with a drawing on Dec. 26. The one ticket holder with a seven-digit match will win the $10-million jackpot.

In a separate drawing, 10 prizes of $1 million each will go to people with numbers whose last six digits match the winning six-digit number.

The $10-million and million-dollar prizes are paid out in installments over 20 years, so their cash value is considerably less than their face value.

Fifty players whose el Gordo numbers match five digits will get $25,000 each.

There will be 500 four-digit winners at $2,500, 5,000 three-digit matches at $250 and 50,000 two-digit winners at $25 each.


If not all the tickets are sold, the number of smaller prizes will be reduced accordingly.

Odds for a single-ticket player are 5,000,000 to 1 against winning the jackpot, and 90 to 1 against winning anything.

Lottery officials hope the big jackpot will draw some players who scorn the smaller payoffs ordinarily offered in other lottery games. By chance, however, the value of today's Lotto jackpot is also $10 million, considerably higher than usual. Some people said yesterday they would keep playing Lotto until someone wins that jackpot, and then switch to buying el Gordo tickets.

El Gordo is expected to net $10 million, out of $365 million the lottery agency is budgeted to contribute to state coffers in the year that began last July 1. But the overall payoff to the state depends on how many el Gordo players cut back on purchases %% of other lottery tickets to play the new game.

"This is going fantastic for us," exclaimed lottery Deputy Director Carroll H. Hynson Jr., saying hourly sales yesterday were ahead of the record pace set when the Lotto jackpot reached $21 million last year. "We didn't expect quite this much of a rush."

Eager buyers who got up early to buy tickets at the outlets that opened at 6 a.m. yesterday could have slept in.


Mr. Hynson said he thought it would take two to three weeks for the five million tickets to sell out.

Dorothy Jenkins, 33, the Shoe Center cashier, said the holiday timing of the new game seemed to be contributing to sales. "People say they want to have some money after Christmas, because they're always broke then."

One of her customers was Martin Cowan, 67, who said he occasionally drove around sums of cash bigger than the el Gordo jackpot before he retired as a driver of a Brinks armored truck.

If he hits it big, he said, "I'll pay my debts off and get a nice house on the water, so I can sit on the porch and cast my fishing rod."

Not every lottery player was parted from his money by the el Gordo advertising hype, which features former Oriole Boog Powell in a pseudo-Mexican-bandit outfit.

"I think it's just another Maryland scam," said Arnold Brown, 40, a correctional officer at the Baltimore City Detention Center, turning down an el Gordo pitch at Jerome Liquors on East Preston Street.


He said he spends a few dollars a week on the regular Pick 4 lottery game, and that's enough for him, he said.

"I think they're getting a little outrageous," Mr. Brown said. "What's next? $20 a ticket for a $50 million jackpot?"