02/24/2006 1:00AM

No one's ever won this game


Las Vegas is the land of the giant jackpot. Gamblers here have won life-changing seven- and eight-figure scores in the past.

But this week, when eight co-workers from the ConAgra ham processing plant in Lincoln, Neb., stepped forward to claim a $365 million Powerball jackpot, even Las Vegans had to be impressed.

One horseplayer even asked me "Why doesn't Nevada have a lottery?" That's a question a lot of locals ask. By law we don't have one. But in actuality we do. Kind of. Now here's the explanation.

Nevada law prohibits a state lottery. For years, though, locals have driven across the Arizona and California borders to convenience stores to buy Powerball tickets, especially when the jackpot gets really high.

In an attempt to market to those lottery players, Nevada Numbers was created in 2001. Nevada Numbers is as close to a lottery as you will find. By definition, though, it's keno and must be advertised as such.

The first Nevada Numbers ticket, costing just $2, was sold on June 25, 2001. To win, you must pick five numbers between 1 and 80 on a ticket and hope to match the five winning numbers that are drawn daily.

The progressive jackpot began at $5 million and has never been won. Almost 1,700 games later, going into Friday, the jackpot has grown to $6,213,949. There are ice glaciers that move faster.

The catch is Las Vegas is a city where the perception of winning, and winners, is marketed like no other place else in the world. It's an art form that has been perfected. The proof in the pudding is that no matter how many billion-dollar megaresorts are built along the Las Vegas Strip, you will still find gamblers who think they're going to beat the casinos.

Nevada Numbers has somehow managed for four years and eight months to fly beneath the radar screen of gamblers. That's really hard to do in Las Vegas when you're offering a more than $6.2 million progressive payout.

There is nothing wrong about the mechanics of playing Nevada Numbers, the pricing or the rules. Each ticket costs $2. And the rules are simple. Pick five numbers and hope they match the keno balls that are pulled at 6 o'clock each night, 5 for 5. There are consolation payouts for matching four, three, two, and one numbers.

There are 33 casinos that sell Nevada Numbers throughout the state, 20 here in Las Vegas alone. Since the game is keno, tickets are sold only at the keno counter at each casino.

Maybe the problem is a lack of promotion and advertising. Well here's my two cents' worth of free publicity for the game.

At the rate the progressive jackpot is growing it will be sometime during 2009, three more years, before it reaches $7 million. I just hope to still be around when the first person finally wins the thing.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.