SACRAMENTO — A little over a week ago, two lottery players in Texas hit five out of five in the Mega Millions drawing, netting them $250,000 apiece.

In that very same drawing, two California players also hit five out of five. But they didn't get $250,000 apiece. They only received $157,726.

Same $1 ticket. Same drawing. Not the same prize.

A little-known quirk in the Mega Millions lottery is that players in California often receive less money than winners in other states — a result that some critics call unfair, but state lottery officials say they're stuck with because of court rulings.

The issue in California is that large prizes must be awarded based on the number of tickets that are bought — "pari-mutuel" betting. Other states are allowed to offer a fixed prize, which in the case of Mega Millions is $250,000 for a five out of five.

"We don't have another way to offer this game," said Linh Nguyen, chief deputy director of the lottery.

Of course, if enough tickets are bought before someone wins the jackpot the pot balloons and a California winner could actually earn more than the $250,000 fixed prize — a lot more. Earlier this year, one five-for-five California winner reaped $1.2 million. But that's not typically the case.

In fact, according to documents obtained by MediaNews through a Public Records Act request, state officials expected California Mega Millions winners to pocket, on average, 14 percent less than winners in the other 11 states.


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So far, though, the actual payout on the five-for-five has been 8 percent less than other winners.

The system doesn't affect the payoffs for grand prize winners — five-for-five plus the bonus number — because that jackpot is always determined by the total number of tickets sold, no matter which state the winner comes from.

In Mega Millions, players pay $1 to pick six numbers from two separate pools of numbers — five numbers from 1 to 56, and one bonus number from 1 to 46.

There are prizes for matching one to four numbers. Those payouts also vary between California and other states.

Nguyen said he wasn't aware of any effort to inform players about the discrepancies beyond brief comments on Web pages.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Fresno, who chairs the committee that oversees the lottery, said the inequity is "unfair for Californians who play Mega Millions and win a non-jackpot (grand) prize."

But the inequity, he said, does not interfere with the lottery's mandate to provide a third of sales revenue to public education.

Contact Steve Geissinger at sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com or 916-447-9302.