Lottery stops sales of 9-1-1 tickets

N.C. lottery officials halted sales Thursday of Pick 3 tickets with the numbers 9-1-1 after a flood of players picked the tragically historical date for their gamble.

The lottery's potential total payout for tickets with those numbers reached $3 million, the threshold at which the computers will stop selling a particular number combination. Enough players bought the Sept. 11 numbers to max them out for both the afternoon and evening drawings.

Players were still able to buy tickets for other numbers.

“I haven't never heard of that,” said Al Spears, a retired country music guitarist in Taylorsville whose 9-1-1 purchase was rejected at a local Market Basket convenience store. The clerk was stumped, too, and had to consult a manager.

The Pick 3 lottery, which pays a maximum $500 for winning tickets, has reached its liability threshold twice before and also with calendar-based combinations: on July 7, 2007, with the numbers 7-7-7, and on Aug. 8 this year for 8-8-8.

Lottery officials could not immediately say how many tickets were sold for 9-1-1 because players can wager 50 cents or $1 and can bet on the numbers being in exact order or in any combination. Those variables affect the payout.

Spears said he also could not buy 1-1-9, suggesting that combination also had topped out.

Players accustomed to Powerball jackpots in the hundreds of millions of dollars may be surprised at a $3 million threshold for Pick 3, but it has fewer players than the big, multistate numbers game.