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Powerball coming to Florida in January

TALLAHASSEE — Powerball and its eye-popping jackpots are coming to Florida in January.

The decision, announced Wednesday by Florida Lottery officials, reverses years of opposition to joining the multistate lottery. The reason? The economy.

Preliminary numbers for lottery sales for the fiscal year that just ended were $4.1-billion, up $47-million, or 1.2 percent, from the previous year.

But lottery officials had expected more growth. They hope Powerball's big payouts — Wednesday's jackpot was $85-million — will entice more players, even as it has lower odds. Florida's Lotto was offering a $6-million jackpot the same day.

"Over 50 percent of our retailers are convenience stores with gasoline stations," said Leo DiBenigno, the lottery secretary. "I don't know about you, but when I go fill up my gas tank, I'm not really in a good mood when I'm done."

Florida is the last state with its own lottery to join a multistate game. Powerball, run by the nonprofit Multi-State Lottery Association, includes 29 other states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Under the system, each state contributes to the jackpot but keeps revenue from tickets sold within its jurisdiction. By law in Florida, any profit will go for education funding.

State officials said it is too early to estimate how much additional revenue the new offering will generate, but they contended it would reach millions of dollars. Tickets will be sold at 13,500 retailers.

"I applaud the Florida Lottery for continuing its mission of maximizing sales for the state's education system," Gov. Charlie Crist said.

Powerball tickets cost $1, and drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday. The overall odds of winning a prize are 1 in 37, though the odds decrease sharply for the big money. Odds for the grand prize are 1 in 146-million. By comparison, odds for Florida Lotto's jackpot is 1 in 23-million.

Under the agreement with Powerball, Florida will host the televised drawings — exposure officials suggested would help tourism. Drawings are currently held in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Before, Floridians wanting to play Powerball had to travel to Georgia or other states to buy tickets. But the further expansion of state gambling drew critics Wednesday.

"It's like a tax on the poor," said Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-Kissimmee. But he was more steamed with what he said was an end run on the Legislature.

This spring, lottery officials appeared before his committee with plans for new games, including increasing the frequency of games and adding ticket vending machines. Most of it was rejected.

"This is an arrogant and very cocky approach to a Legislature that uniformly said we choose not to take that direction," Attkisson said.

At the time, Powerball was not on the table. But DiBenigno said demand and a changing marketplace — something he later clarified to mean the worsening economy — caused a reconsideration.

The law governing the Florida Lottery specifically authorizes it to expand into multistate games, so legislative approval is not needed. "What we're doing today is literally following the law," DiBenigno said.

In the past, however, Florida has kept a distance from Powerball for fear it would eat into other games.

That was on then-Gov. Jeb Bush's mind when, in 1999, he reversed the decision of the late Lawton Chiles to enter Powerball. Bush said it was of "debatable effectiveness" and would hurt the lottery's chances of achieving long-term stability.

DiBenigno himself has echoed that sentiment in recent months.

Studies conducted for other states, including Texas and California, showed that joining multistate games increase revenue by 8 to 78 percent but cannibalization of other games averages nearly 25 percent.

"I'm convinced there will be a tradeoff," DiBenigno said. "But that's okay as long as the net sales amount is positive; then I think we're doing our jobs."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Powerball coming to Florida in January 07/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 3:31pm]
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