Hottest ticket in town

July 28, 1997

Hottest ticket in town

$60 million spent on lottery games in Tri-State area in fiscal year 1994


Staff Writer

Hagerstown resident Bob Baker walked up to the counter at Central City Liquors last week, placed his cash on the table and ordered some lottery tickets.

Baker, who lives on Avalon Avenue, said he usually plays the Maryland Lottery about twice week. The reason?

"The excitement - and I don't have a rich uncle," he said.

That chance for a big payoff draws millions of dollars each year to state lottery games in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In fact, more than $60 million dollars were spent on lottery games in the seven-county Tri-State area in fiscal year 1997, slightly less than the previous year.


In Washington County, which accounted for more than $16 million of that total last year, a chunk of the gambling takes place at Central City Liquors. Located on the corner of West Washington Street and Burhans Boulevard, the store is one of the busiest lottery outlets in the county.

Harvey Sprecher, of Virginia Avenue in Hagerstown, said he plays lottery games almost every day. He said he usually plays the Pick 3, since it gives him the best chance of winning. It's paid off: He said he won $1,000 in April and won twice last year.

Sprecher, 41, said he is not bothered when he loses because the money pays for government programs that help the public.

"I know where the money's going. The more people who play, the more they're helping themselves, really," he said. "It's just like the motto: 'You got to play to win.' That's true."

Tim Hinkle, who lives on West Antietam Street in Hagerstown, said he loses an average of about $15 a month between the lottery and keno.

But he said he wins every now and again, albeit small sums - "just enough to keep me interested."

For lottery officials, that is the trick. With lottery sales stagnating in all three states in recent years, they say the challenge is to draw in a public somewhat bored with the older games.

"People are getting used to the games and interest wears off a little bit. And we haven't changed our games for a while," said Michael Thaxton, an analyst with the West Virginia Lottery.

Thaxton said West Virginia lottery officials are in the midst of devising a new advertising campaign and revamping some of the games.

"We're trying to have a good variety out there," he said.

Pennsylvania Lottery officials said sales are growing at about 3 to 5 percent a year.

"It's a very slow growth or increase in our sales," said Sally Danyluk, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Danyluk said state officials hope to boost that rate by increasing the number of retailers authorized to sell lottery tickets. She said officials are scouring counties that might have growth potential. She pointed to Fulton County, which has 11 retailers, as a possibility.

"We have many areas - like Fulton County, for instance - where there are not that many retailers," she said.

One tactic Maryland Lottery officials have taken, is to allow some retailers to cash large amounts on the spot. Central City Liquors in Hagerstown is the only business in Washington County that is participating in the trial program, owner John Zombro said.

Now, if a player wins up to $5,000, he said he can cash it at his store. That way, winners don't have to travel all the way to Baltimore to collect, Zombro said. He said he has had two payouts since the program started July 14.

Zombro said he has seen the effects of the proliferation of games. Many of his customers, he said, are lured to West Virginia by the larger Powerball pots. He said people expect much larger Lotto payouts before they plunk down serious cash.

"Big jackpots draw them in. But it's got to be close to $20 million before they start to come out like they used to," he said.

 The following compares money

spent on lottery tickets in each of the seven counties

in the Tri-State region:



Fiscal year


Fiscal year

Maryland  Frederick County $16,426,978 $16,242,864Washington County $22,739,674 $22,805,366Pennsylvania  Franklin County $8,776,356 $8,912,772Fulton County $804,283 $802,904West Virginia  Berkeley County $6,857,841 $6,734,046Jefferson County $4,472,569 $4,476,587Morgan County $783,693 $800,156TOTAL: $60,861,394 $60,774,695
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