TALLAHASSEE — Construction worker Anthony Carey usually gets $50 in scratch-off lottery tickets once a week at the convenience store where he gasses up, but he says that will probably change when Florida reintroduces vending machines this year in supermarkets.
The first of 1,000 machines should begin showing up in mid August and all should all be in place by the end of November.
"Instead of just getting them when I'm putting in gas, I would be able to buy them basically anywhere," Carey said while filling up his pickup near his Miami home.
"By having those machines available everywhere and more convenient, people would definitely buy more," Carey said. "At least, I know for me, I would."
That's just what Florida Lottery officials and lawmakers want to hear after betting $3.9 million of taxpayers' money that the vending machines will pay off. That's something they didn't always do before then-Gov. Jeb Bush scrapped the machines eight years ago.
Florida launched a pilot program with 500 instant ticket vending machines in the Orlando area in 1997. The state's inventory grew to 797 machines scattered around Florida three years later.
A Lottery inspector general's review in 2000, though, indicated only 20 of the leased machines were bringing in enough money to pay for themselves.
The next year, lottery officials planned to cut the number of machines in half and relocate some to make them more profitable. Before that could happen, though, Bush vetoed a $2.9 million budget line-item to continue leasing the machines from Interlott Technologies of Mason, Ohio. Bush thought it was improper to name a contractor in the budget.
That's not an issue this time. The Florida Lottery's existing contract with GTech Corp. of Providence, R.I., to provide its gaming systems includes a provision to lease vending machines at the state's option for $329 a month each.
One difference is that the machines will be only in supermarkets. Five chains, including Publix and Winn-Dixie, have committed to take them.
Lottery Secretary Leo DiBenigno said he expects that and other changes to produce a better result.
"You learn from your mistakes," he said. "They were not placed in ideal locations, so we've learned from that lesson."
Twenty-nine of the 42 states with lotteries use vending machines, and their combined sales in 2006 were more than $2.3 billion. Sixty-three percent of those machines are in grocery stores and they account for 68 percent of all vending machine sales, according to a Florida revenue estimating conference report.
DiBenigno's optimism is based on another pilot project in 2007 that placed vending machines in 10 supermarkets for 13 weeks. Scratch-off sales increased by a weekly average of 36 percent in those stores even though sales declined by nearly half a percent statewide. Sales at the pilot stores dropped 25 percent eight weeks after the machines were removed.
The machines are now more cost effective and attractive to big supermarket chains. Innovations include automatic accounting and instant notification when dispensing bins are empty.
Each machine has 24 bins and accepts bills ranging from $1 to $20 but won't give change, said GTech account development manager Bryan Colbert. The machines are equipped with kill switches that allow store personnel to shut them off if minors under 18 — the legal age limit — attempt to purchase tickets.
The machines also are expected to increase gambling addiction problems, said Pat Fowler, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling. She said that's the case with any expansion of gambling.
Fowler's biggest worry is minors even with the kill switches. The devices are only as good as the people monitoring the machines, Fowler said.
A public opinion survey conducted for the lottery in 2007 showed 53 percent of Floridians would be comfortable buying tickets from a vending machine.