Tennessee lawmakers discover the business of a lottery

By BOBBY ROSS JR.

Associated Press Writer

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (AP)-At the Scientific Games International headquarters north of Atlanta, gigantic presses print roughly 40 million scratchoff lottery tickets a day.

In a year, the shiny, colorful tickets come in more than 1,200 varieties, from Texas’ “Bucks ‘N Trucks” to Arizona’s “Wild Willie” to Maine’s “Dog Gone Lottery.”

On Wednesday, a new one was unveiled: “Tennessee Christmas,” featuring a smiling Santa Claus and a top prize of $50,000.

Don’t rush to the store just yet, though. It was just a prototype, designed to impress Tennessee lawmakers who spent the day exploring the operations of Scientific Games and GTECH Corp., Georgia’s major lottery vendors and worldwide industry leaders.

On the final day of a two-day fact-finding trip to Georgia, a House-Senate committee charged with crafting a Tennessee lottery got an inside view. Several members said they came away impressed at the enormity of the $50-billion-a-year industry.

“It made me feel that we’d missed the boat for a long time,” said state Sen. Steve Cohen, the Memphis Democrat who has pushed 18 years for a lottery and leads the House-Senate committee.

“We knew how many states,” he said of the 38 states that have lotteries, “but when you see how many tickets are produced…I mean, it’s a billion-dollar business coming to Tennessee.”

The committee is developing a lottery bill after Tennessee voters last month overwhelmingly lifted a constitutional ban on a lottery. The referendum’s passage cleared the way for lawmakers to create a lottery to raise funds for scholarships and other education programs.

Between touring the major vendors, lawmakers stopped at a downtown Atlanta convenience store, picked numbers on an $8 million Lotto South jackpot and bought holiday-themed scratchoff tickets.

For many, that was the easy part.

After scratching off his $5 “Merry Money” ticket, state Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, realized he didn’t know how to tell if he won.

“I got to figure out how to do this,” he said, chuckling.

Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, bought $10 in tickets and won $4.

“A bad return,” he surmised.

Earlier, the 15 or so senators and representatives who made the trip visited GTECH’s Georgia offices.

The Rhode Island-based corporation was paid nearly $54 million last fiscal year to run the Georgia lottery’s seven jackpot games and maintain a statewide computer network that issues tickets at 7,500 retail outlets.

GTECH controls an estimated 70 percent of the worldwide lottery market. It runs portions or all of 25 U.S. lotteries, with clients including Texas, Kentucky, Missouri and Louisiana.

“We’re not here to sell you a bunch of gadgets or think you’re going to walk out of here at the end of the day and give us a contract,” said Ross Dalton, a GTECH vice president. “This is for information.”

Likewise, Scientific Games officials said the purpose of Wednesday’s presentation was to help Tennessee lawmakers understand lotteries. In Georgia, the company earned $30.8 million last year for printing tickets for the 40 to 45 instant-win games in circulation at any given time.

Scientific Games has lottery contracts with 27 states and handles both the online and scratch-off operations in some, including South Carolina. It claims a 65 percent market share of the international scratchoff ticket market.

“We think that puts us in a unique position in terms of understanding what the issues are,” Scientific Games CEO Lorne Weil said.

Cohen described the trip as extremely educational and was impressed with the prototype ticket, calling it “cool.”

“That’s just an example of what our designers do,” said Steve Charles, Scientific Games’ production control manager. “They start off with a concept and end up with a finished product.”

Along the way, the tickets undergo a series of spot tests and security measures-including placing matching codes on the fronts and backs at different stages. It’s all designed to avoid any hint of corruption.

On The Net:
Georgia Lottery: www.georgialottery.com

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