Powerball off to a quick start in Florida

If the first day is any indication, Powerball is going to be a hit among Florida lottery players.

Almost a half-million tickets were sold in just the first few hours after tickets went on sale Sunday at 6 a.m., according to Florida Lottery officials. By day's end, state retailers sold 1.3-million of the $1 tickets for the Wednesday night drawing and 1.5-million total, including advance sales.

"It's really good," Florida Lottery communications manager Connie Barnes said. "While we did not have an overall figure in mind (for early sales), I think, overall, we're pleased. Sunday is usually a slow time, so we're optimistic."

Powerball, the multistate lottery that boasts big prizes, debuted in Florida this week with an estimated $105-million jackpot. Players pick six numbers — the first five between 1 and 59 and the sixth "powerball" number between 1 and 39 — or they can have a computer randomly choose them. A single-ticket match of all six numbers wins the jackpot, though the odds of that are 1 in 195-million. (Odds of matching six numbers in the regular Florida Lotto game are 1 in 23-million.)

Drawings will take place at 10:59 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday at Universal Studios in Orlando. Tickets can be purchased until 10 p.m.

Florida is the 30th state to join the Multi-State Lottery Association and add Powerball to its lottery offerings. Because the game is new, the Florida Lottery has set up a Web presentation showing patrons how to play.

The Powerball pot is separate from other Florida lottery games, though it could siphon off sales from other games. Proceeds from Powerball tickets sold in Florida stay in Florida, and the state gets the same 50 percent cut of revenue it does from its own games.

On the first day alone, Powerball sales generated $606,892 that will go toward education, Barnes said. Miami-Dade County saw the most sales, with 200,370 tickets, and Hillsborough County ranked fifth, selling 88,108 (a Publix in Riverview sold the most tickets in the county). Pinellas County ranked sixth, and Pasco County was 12th.

Sales could pick up even more by Wednesday. Ajay Shah, who co-owns the Sneh Food Mart gas station on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 10th Avenue S in St. Petersburg, said he didn't notice a great surge in ticket sales right after its debut, but expects more people to try Powerball on the days of the drawings.

"A lot of people have been asking what it is, how it functions," Shah said. "I just hope it doesn't cut down on Lotto sales."

It shouldn't, said Barnes, but even if it does, it shouldn't affect how much money will go back to Florida schools.

"All the games generate revenue for education," she said. "This just diversifies our portfolio of games and is one more thing we're doing to pique interest."

Florida Lottery officials say lottery ticket sales have contributed more than $19-billion to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund over the last 22 years. Floridians purchase more than $4-billion in Lottery products per year.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Powerball off to a quick start in Florida 01/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 4:44pm]

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