When the Arkansas Lottery awarded a contract to the Greece-based Intralot in August of this year, one requirement was that the lottery services company provide 100 ticket vending machines. The lottery commission has yet to roll out the machines, but a non-operational model can be seen at the claims center in downtown Little Rock.
Lottery director Ernie Passailaigue says Arkansans will start to see the machines this spring, sometime around March or April. But while lottery officials hope to reach customers in more locations, others fear that vending machines will make it easier for children to buy tickets.
The machines will dispense draw game and scratch-off tickets and pay out winnings of up to $500 with vouchers that can be used in retail stores. Commissions on sales and winnings will be the same as those paid to other retailers — 5 percent of sales, 1 percent of redeemed prizes and 1 percent of winning tickets worth $10,000 or more, not to exceed a $50,000 payout.
“And all that is a stand-alone process,” says Passailaigue. “The vending machines can do all of it, so you won't have the lines and you won't have the other issues that you have with the lottery, like the labor intensiveness of it.”
People have complained about the lines created in convenience stores as customers buy and scratch-off tickets. It's unlikely these machines will cut down on any of that because most machines will not be placed in convenience stores, but in high-traffic, “non-traditional locations,” like big retail chains, grocery stores and airports, Passailaigue says.
“We've got a heavy investment in these. I can't tell you what they cost per machine because that's part of the proprietary information in the contract. But I can tell you it's a heavy investment, so we couldn't put these in 2,000 locations statewide,” Passailaigue says.
Out of the 44 states that have lotteries, 29 currently have vending machines and the sales they generate make up a substantial portion of lottery revenues. In 2007, sales from vending machines totaled $2.3 billion.
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, a conservative lobby based in Little Rock, is worried about the prospect of under-age lottery players.
A 2002 Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families report cites an Illinois study that found a 16 year-old girl was able to buy tickets on 49 out of 50 attempts. A study done in Massachusetts found that children as young as 9 were able to buy tickets 80 percent of the time.
“That's why we don't have cigarette vending machines any more because children were buying cigarettes out of them,” Cox says. “The same thing is going to happen with lottery tickets. The clerks will not be standing over the person buying the tickets. So the big question is, ‘Who is going to keep children from playing the lottery?' and I think the answer is no one.”
Passailaigue says there will be safeguards. Machines will require the customer to swipe a valid driver's license that will only allow those above the age of 18 to purchase tickets. Retailers also have the ability to kill a sale if they see an underage person attempting to buy tickets. Cox doesn't think that will be enough.
“Think about the creativity of teenagers,” he says. “There's no end to the ways they defeat the ID requirements for alcohol and other things they shouldn't be buying.”
Exactly where the machines will be placed is still up in the air. A spokesperson for the Little Rock National Airport says airport managers are considering installing the machines there but did not offer any details.