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Florida begins lottery

By MICHAEL McCLELLAND

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Surrounded by balloons, music and all the hoopla the Lottery Department could muster, Gov. Bob Martinez used a big wooden nickel Tuesday to scratch off a giant game card to open the Florida Lottery.

'You are winners, and of course the little children are winners,' Martinez told an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,200 in front of the Old Capitol. 'Let the fun begin and let the dollars come in for education.'

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Similar celebrations were held in a dozen other cities across the state and the daylong festivities were to climax Tuesday night with a Beach Boys concert in Miami's Orange Bowl.

Thirty-five percent of the lottery proceeds -- about $147 million this fiscal year and $350 million in future years -- will go to education.

Ticket sales actually began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when thousands of anxious players lined up at all-night stores to buy $1 tickets in the 'Millionaire' game. Some $250 million in prizes will be awarded before that game is phased out in 10 to 12 weeks, including two $1 million grand prizes.

Lottery Secretary Rebecca Paul said in Miami at 6 p.m. she believed 7 million tickets had been sold. An official in Tallahassee said 57 people called the Lottery office to claim they won the top instant prize of $5,000.

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Paul said the only first-day problems she had heard were that some retailers had run out of tickets.

By mid-afternoon, thousands of free tickets and small cash prizes had been handed over to game players, and a survey showed at least 36 people had called to claim $5,000 prizes, the largest instant prize in the game.

Countless other people scratched off game cards to reveal three 'Entry' notations, qualifying them for the drawing for the grand prize. Two of the 1 million 'ENTRY' cards printed will result in $1 million for their lucky holders.

'My odds are one in a million. That's easy!' said Lake Worth publisher Al Bigelow, who was in Tallahassee for the lottery festivities. His wife, Esther, had uncovered a car with three 'ENTRY' symbols among the 20 tickets the couple bought.

To no one's surprise, when Martinez scratched off the giant card, it showed the lottery's slogan, 'Florida is the Winner!'

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