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Italy's elusive lotto jackpot climbs to $197 million

ROME — Millions of Italians and foreigners failed once again to guess the winning numbers in Italy's state lottery, and the record jackpot climbed to euro139.9 million ($197 million) after Monday's draw.

No one has won the top prize since January and the odds of picking the lucky six-number combination in the SuperEnalotto game are about 1 in 622 million.

That's not cooling lotto fever.

With euro136 million up for grabs ahead of Monday's draw, Italians lined up at lottery stands joined by visitors from across Europe who crossed the border to try their luck.

A lotto dealer in Modena, northern Italy, said about 2,000 people teamed up to pay euro81,000 for six tickets. There were 19 series of numbers on each ticket. Had they gotten lucky, they would have taken home euro56,000 each.

On Sunday, 130 Germans flew on charter planes to Rimini, a resort popular with northern Europeans on the Adriatic Sea, to buy tickets. They had won free plane tickets in a German newspaper contest. Last week, another planeload of hopeful Germans flew from Berlin to Milan in a similar promotion.

Lottery officials described this week's prize as the highest jackpot ever in Europe.

The last time anyone won the top prize in Italy was Jan. 31, when five winners shared a euro39.7 million jackpot.

Before the current frenzy, the previous all-time high jackpot in Italy was the euro100.7 million ($141.71 million) won Oct. 23.

Since the start of the year, players have spent more than euro2.04 billion ($2.87 billion) in hopes of snaring the SuperEnalotto jackpot.

Throughout the jackpot drought, there has been one consistent winner: the Italian state.

Half of all the money played goes into the state's coffers, a winning formula in these budget-tight times.