Residents betting on $100 million jackpot

By Billy Corriher

With the state lottery's jackpot reaching $100 million dollars, Clayton County residents are hoping they have the lucky numbers when the drawing is held tonight.

Jonesboro resident William Dukes said he plans to buy a Mega Millions ticket today, even though the odds of winning are one of out of 135 million.

"My odds are slim to none," Dukes said. "But it happens."

The chance of winning big keeps him coming back for more. Dukes said he often plays the different lottery games at the Phillips 66 convenience store on Valley Hill Road.

"I keep this store in business buying tickets," Dukes said.

Salomon Vasaya, owner of the Phillips 66 store, said his ticket sales usually increase by about 50 percent when the jackpot gets as big as it is now.

Georgia Lottery spokeswoman Tandi Reddick said the jackpot is the sixth-highest Mega Millions jackpot since the game began in May 2002. The numbers are drawn on Tuesdays and Fridays, but there has not been a winner since the Nov. 14 drawing, she said.

Jonesboro resident Alison Smith said she is usually reluctant to play the lottery with such slim chances of winning.

"I have a fear of losing a dollar," she said. But Smith said many of her friends play the lottery, and they convinced her to take a chance on today's big jackpot.

"They think we're going to get some Christmas cash," she said.

Smith will be one of millions across 11 states buying a ticket and hoping for some good luck during the holidays.

Revenue from Georgia's lottery tickets go toward funding the state's pre-kindergarten education program and the HOPE scholarship, which pays for any student with a B average to attend college in Georgia.

But the increase in revenue from lottery tickets has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the HOPE program, said Alma Bowen, spokeswoman for the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Since its inception in 1993, spending on the HOPE program has gone from 21 million to 360 million last year, with more than 200,000 students participating.

Bowen said the increase in students is partly a result of some school systems lowering the threshold required to reach a B so that more students will qualify for HOPE.

Without enough lottery revenue to keep the program funded, the HOPE scholarship will have to undergo significant changes in the next couple of years, Bowen said.

A state commission has recommended dropping money for books for college students from the HOPE program, she said. The commission is also suggesting implementing statewide grading standards, and Governor Sonny Perdue is supporting an initiative to tie the scholarship to a minimum SAT score.