Thirty-two persons -- the largest number ever -- picked the six winning numbers in the latest Maryland Lotto game, an event that lottery officials described as phenomenal but not inexplicable.
The odds against so many people winning by picking numbers at random are roughly 100 million trillion to 1, according to a quick calculation scratched out last night by a member of the statistics department at George Washington University.
However, Carroll Hynson Jr., lottery spokesman, said it appeared that, rather than choose numbers from one to 40 at random, many of the winners may have been playing numbers provided in the horoscope section of a weekly tabloid newspaper.
Such a practice is not uncommon, he added, noting that the combination 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 is played by at least 2,000 persons every week.
Winners in Saturday's Lotto drawing came from all over the state, including "a good number" from Prince George's County and and at least one from Montgomery County, according to Hynson.
Over 20 years, a single winner would have received a total payout of about $1.2 million, officials said, predicated on sales of about 2.4 million tickets at a dollar apiece and purchase by the state of an annuity costing about $600,000.
However, with 32 winners who all picked the numbers 10, 18, 25, 28, 30 and 33, Hynson said, the figures fell below the threshold required by regulations for an annuity payout, and each is to receive a single payment of about $19,000.
About a dozen of the winners picked up their checks yesterday. Six or seven of them "said they remembered seeing the numbers in one of those newspapers," where they appeared about one month ago, and had been playing them since, Hynson said.
He said one woman told of donning a blindfold to make her winning selections.
Typically, he said, numbers on 70 percent of winning tickets have been selected at random by the lottery sales computers. In this drawing, he said, only one winning ticket was obtained that way.
Although other states have had larger numbers of winners, Hynson called the 32 winners in last week's game "a historic event" for the Maryland lottery.
The largest previous number of winners in the Maryland lottery was eight, when a $14 million prize was offered in May to mark the 14th anniversary of the lottery agency.
Over one recent 12-month period, in which about 20 million people bought 160 million tickets, only 106 people won the big weekly jackpots.