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Lottery turns to TV for sales boost

(Published June 18, 2001)


Staff Writer

Contestants compete on the Hollywood set of "Powerball TV Game Show," which D.C. Lottery officials hope will boost lottery ticket sales.

Call it a gimmick.

That won’t upset lottery officials in the District or in 12 other states that are participating in the "Powerball TV Game Show,’ which gives players a free trip to Hollywood and a chance to win $1 million.

The game show is the latest effort of the D.C. Lottery to increase ticket sales and make playing the lottery more exciting. And it appears to be exciting at least a lot of longtime lottery players.

Ann E. Williams of Northeast Washington said she didn't have any qualms about flying to Hollywood to be on the Powerball game show.

"I'd been watching the show every week on TV, and because they told us everything that was going to happen, I wasn't nervous at all," she said.

Even after winning the all-expenses-paid trip to California, Williams said she still buys lottery tickets, hoping to win something else: "Every time they [the D.C. Lottery] come out with a new kind of ticket, I try it."

Players buy the "Instant TV Game Show" ticket for $3 and have eight chances to win up to $25,000 instantly. At the bottom of the ticket, players also get the chance to scratch a Powerball to reveal if their ticket is an entry to the drawing for a trip to Hollywood.

Every three months, the D.C. Lottery draws nine tickets and these winners get to go to Hollywood. Once there, players are guaranteed to win at least $1,000. The lottery also draws anywhere from four to eight tickets of at-home players who win 10 percent of what the players in Hollywood win.

The game show is like many other game shows.

Jeanell Leath of Southwest Washington, who went to Hollywood in April, said it went something like this: In a tiny studio host Bob Eubanks, formerly of The Newlywed Game, loosens up the players and the audience by telling a few jokes. Then they play the game and tape the show. Players are asked a series of questions and they either go up or down in points and prize money. The game lasts for about 20 minutes.

All of the costs for the game show — including the contestants' trips to Hollywood — are paid by the 13 participating state lotteries, which pool resources to pay for the show.

When the Multi-State Lottery Association, a membership organization for state lotteries, asked D.C. Lottery officials to participate in the game show, they jumped at the chance.

"Game shows are very popular right now, so we took the opportunity offered by the Multi-state Lottery Association to become part of the game show," said Sylvia Kinard, the deputy director for corporate affairs at the D.C. Lottery.

The best thing about the game show, Kinard said, is that "it allows us to sell more instant tickets."

The Powerball TV Game Show, which began last October, is televised only in the 12 participating states and the District. In the District, it airs at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays on Channel 20 (UPN). Officials at the Multi-State Lottery Association said they hope that the show will eventually go national.

Charles Strutt, executive director of the association, said that the more people who know about the game show, the better. "Many people have negative perceptions of the lottery, so the show helps put a human face on the lottery. After all, it's just a game," he said.

Some players have been playing the D.C. Lottery since it started in 1982.

Kenneth Clark of Southeast Washington, who went to Hollywood in April, plays the lottery every day and estimates that he spends about $30 a week on lottery tickets.

"I probably give them more than I get back," he said. "Buy a ticket, lose $3. Buy a ticket, lose $3. Buy a ticket, win $3. Buy a ticket, lose $3."

Clark took home $2,500 from the game show, earning back some of the money that he has spent on the lottery over the years.

According to D.C. Lottery officials, almost $2 billion in prizes has gone to lottery players and almost $200 million has been paid in commissions to the 500 retailers in the District who are licensed to sell tickets since the lottery began. The D.C. Lottery also contributes lottery revenues to the District’s general fund. On May 30, the lottery announced that total revenue transferred to the District had reached the $1 billion mark.

Revenues from the lottery fund the activities of the charitable games division of the D.C. Lottery, which provides technical support to nonprofit organizations to help them generate revenue through charitable gaming events such as bingo, raffles and Monte Carlo parties.

The government-run lottery, while still criticized in some quarters for even existing, also tries to stay in the good graces of Washingtonians through promotional campaigns that help keep the lottery visible. In February, the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board sponsored the program "Oh Freedom: the Underground Railroad Movement" and the distribution of Black History Month calendars and posters to city schools.

Some lottery revenue also goes toward market research and the development of new lottery games. Future plans for the D.C. Lottery, according to its annual report, include efforts to broaden the distribution of lottery tickets, accelerate market penetration, and make up for the potential loss of future revenues, since lotteries across the country have been losing players in recent years.

The lottery is also planning for the development of a rapid-draw game to increase ticket sales and reach new players. Instead of drawing winners twice a day, a rapid-draw game would enable the lottery to draw winners every five or 10 minutes.

This means more winners and more prizes, a lottery spokesman noted. "One hopes that there will also be more players, but it's hard to tell," said Bob Hainey, the D.C. Lottery’s communications manager.

"You can't rush into something like this. You first have to find out who’s playing the lottery and how they are playing. Then you create more games," he said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator