Biggest lottery game ever in the works?

Editor’s Note:  Lottery Post first reported details of the new national game under consideration nine months ago (Lottery leaders convene in D.C. to discuss future of games, Lottery Post, Apr. 26, 2012).  It seems the rest of the media is finally catching up.

The folks behind the nation’s two biggest lotteries continue to dream of creating an even bigger game.

The idea was widely reported a few years ago, when states got the OK to start selling both Mega Millions and Powerball.

“If we develop a national game, it will probably be at a different price point,” said Tom Shaheen, then president of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees Powerball, in the fall of 2009. “It might be $2. It might be $5. It will be a single game, but we haven’t worked out all the details of that yet.”

Such a super lottery was possible by the end of 2010, Chuck Strutt, MUSL’s executive director, said at the time.

Nothing’s imminent, but the idea’s quite alive.

It may have gained new momentum from last year’s successful experiment in raising Powerball tickets to $2 apiece. Powerball sales topped $5 billion, up more than $1.5 billion from 2011, and jackpot records were shattered, as Mega Millions hit $656 million, Powerball $587.5 million.

No previous U.S. jackpot topped $400 million.

“A new kind of national game is still in development,” Norm Lingle, chairman of Powerball’s board of directors, acknowledged while discussing November’s historic Powerball prize.

So far, though, only the sketchiest details are available.

That’s because not only are discussions hush-hush, no plan has been pinned down.

It might be a scratchoff game, said Strutt.

“The goal is to develop something new, or perhaps a hybrid,” according to Lingle.

The game would be in addition to Powerball and Mega Millions. It wouldn’t replace them.

Tickets might be more expensive than the $2 Powerball began charging a year ago.

And it may not happen this year: “No start date has been set,” said Lingle.

The trick to making it happen will be getting dozens of states on board. Forty-one now sell both Powerball and Mega Millions, and Mega Millions-only California will add Powerball in April, leaving Florida the remaining discriminator, with just Powerball.

“Nearly all lotteries are at least willing to listen, but not quite to the ‘involved’ stage just yet,” according to Lingle, as passed along by Strutt.

One could argue that both Powerball and Mega Millions are already national, since they’re in so many states.

But given last year’s explosion of jackpot frenzy, each game’s having drawings just two days a week, and the lack of a major multistate instant game, who knows where the ceiling is?

Many other countries have truly national lotteries, run by their federal governments.

The dream of one in America goes all the way back to 1776, when the Continental Congress, right here in Philadelphia, approved one to help pay for the Revolution. The idea flopped, though, because few folks could afford the hefty ticket prices – $10 to $40 – and “the wealthier ones who could were mostly Tories who could were had no desire to aid the rebellion,” according to Scarne’s Guide to Gambling.

Given battles over the federal deficit in recent decades, many have proposed that Uncle Sam sponsor its own every-state lottery, and the idea has been repeatedly studied by Congress.

But apparently it’s tough to get the backing of voters who fear harm to the lucrative state-run lotteries. That was the reason given by Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, for example, when he abandoned his proposal for a national lottery five years ago.

Here’s a different idea: A National Tax Return Lottery. Pay extra to Uncle Sam on your 1040, for a chance to win the right to never income taxes again.

Wouldn’t anybody already getting a refund give up a chunk to chase such a dream?