Steady sales mark Lottery's early days

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Less than one mile from the North Carolina border, patrons of the Beer Wash beverage shop in Roan Mountain purchase lottery tickets and cold beer from manager Larry Griggs.
   "It has served our business well," said Griggs. "We are awfully pleased with what is going on with just little things."
   The Beer Wash is one of 20 businesses licensed to sell lottery tickets by the Tennessee Lottery Education Corporation. Ten days into the sales of instant win tickets, state lottery officials are celebrating early sales figures.
   Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Paul reported last that first-week ticket sales were approximately $41.3 million. Of that amount, $3.4 million were sold in the state's northeastern region. The Nashville and Memphis metropolitan areas led the way selling $13.6 million and $9.9 million, respectively.
   Griggs said the store had exhausted his supply of 1,000 scratch lottery tickets shipped to him by the Lottery Commission in only five days. Instant win tickets went across the state on Jan. 20, but two missing pages from the store's application packet delayed the license approval from the state until Jan. 23. The store had sold small winning tickets to several players, but no large pay outs of over $600.
   Retailers presently receive a 6.5 percent commission on lottery tickets sold, or 6.5 cents on every dollar. While lottery tickets provided a new revenue opportunity, Griggs said the hops and barley of his operation were beer sales.
   The 6.5 percent, for $1,000 of tickets sold factored out to $65 -- a figure that hardly supplants beer sales, Griggs said. He also said some patrons were apprehensive about buying the tickets at the store's drive-in window due to the "newness" of the game.
   "We've had several come in, but once they come in it's all good," he said.
   North Carolina does not have a state lottery, and new retailers near the Tennessee border from Johnson to Polk counties could lure players who have previously cast their lots in Virginia or Georgia.
   Retailers believe ticket sales are likely to increase once the Lottery Corporation implements the weekly $1 million lotto drawings. The state Lottery Corporation has not announced whether the state will participate in either the Powerball or MegaMillion games involving multiple state lotteries paying out super jackpots in the tens of millions of dollars.
   "I'm sure that there are a lot more people who want to play," said Griggs. "That's when our sales are really going to jump up, I do believe."
   Other local retailers who spoke with the Star last week characterized early sales as "steady" as they await the Lottery Corporation's timetable to begin big pay out games including the $1 million lotto.
   Kathy Oliver, co-owner of Lighthouse Tobacco and Mini-Mart in Elizabethton, said her business had tallied 657 winners and paid out roughly $2,118 during the first week of ticket sales. "Our biggest winner was $100 and we've had a lot of happy little winners," she said. "A lot of people say they are not really into gambling, but believe it is for a good cause."
   The Lottery is tasked with raising at least $88 million by July 1 in order to fund scholarships for an estimated 65,000 students expected to attend Tennessee colleges and universities next fall.
   The Lottery plans to launch its Cash 3 game on or before March 20. Cash 3 offers players the ability to pick three numbers from 000 to 999 to match them with those drawn that evening by the Lottery.
   "I'd like to see some trickled down to the high schools and elementary schools because you have to go through there to get to college," said Oliver.
   Studies done in the last decade dispute other surveys indicating that the majority of lottery players come from low-income households. A Maritz AmeriPoll survey conducted in 1997 found that of those spending at least $20 per month on lottery purchases, close to half reported incomes of $45,000 or higher. Arizona's "core" players, who account for 70 percent of all lottery revenue, have an average household income of $42,000.
   A 1999 Gallup poll indicated that a greater percentage of respondents with family incomes between $45,000 and $75,000 had played the lottery in the past 12 months than those below $25,000. Those with incomes above $75,000 spend about three times as much on lotteries each month as those with incomes below $25,000, according to the Gallup poll.