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State set to expand lottery with vending machines

Florida Lottery officials say they’re getting ready to roll out hundreds of new full service lottery vending machines that will offer not just scratch off tickets, but other games like PowerBall. The idea is that they’ll help increase sales and raise more money for education. But Regan McCarthy reports there are a few groups asking questions—like how much of that money will make it into the state’s classrooms.

A new measure signed by the governor makes full service lottery machines legal in the state. Previously only Instant Ticket Vending Machines – or vending machines that dispense scratch off tickets were allowed. Now the new full service machines are an answer to the governor’s call to increase lottery ticket sales, and with it revenue for education. Florida Lottery Deputy Secretary Dennis Harmon says that’s because the lottery expects new retailers, especially big box stores, to want the machines.

“There are some corporate locations that have told us that they are interested in selling lottery products. They know that the lottery games bring people into their stores. But because they have concerns about labor costs and innovatory control and so forth, they are more interested in the full service machines.”

Estimators expect the machines to raise about $8 million for education in the first partial year, that’s out of an expected total sales of $27 million. They’re expecting about $21 million for education in the year after that. Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell says that money will go directly to fund education.

“We are a majority funder of bright futures scholarships as you know. It’s determined by the department of education, of course, where it goes, but in the past, we’ve funded school construction, we’ve funded K-12 programs.

That sounds look a good deal for the state’s school systems, but some say the way that money is doled out should be reorganized. Wayne Blanton is the executive director of the Florida School Board Association. Blanton says he’s glad to hear it anytime someone suggests increasing revenue for schools. But he says people should understand that only a small part of the money from the lottery is making it into the state’s classrooms.

“We appreciate the lottery money. It’s very beneficial for public schools. But on the other hand I think we are going to have to put more of the lottery dollars directly into the public schools and give the public schools some flexibility with those dollars. Remember it takes about a $100 million a day to run public schools in the state of Florida. So if we’re only getting about $150 million of what I call “flexible dollars” then that’s really in the big picture not that much money state wide.”

Blanton says what the schools really need is a new formula for distributing the revenue they have.

Blanton isn’t the only person raising concerns. Spokesman for the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, Bryan Kongsvik, says his organization has a few questions about the new machines—like how well the mechanism intended to stop under-age play works. State law stipulates the machines must be within the sight of cashiers, and that cashiers must have a “kill switch” to shut the machine down when someone under-age tries to use the machine. Lottery officials say that’s the method that’s in place for the machines in use now and that will be in place for the new full-service machines. So far, they say, it’s worked well. But Kongsvik says he has some doubts. 

“I can just speak from going into a store that I frequent. There’s no doubt about it, it is within line of sight. But it’s also 40 or 50 feet the counter. What happens when the person at the counter is busy ringing up a customer or dealing with a phone call?”

Kongsvik says his organization is also concerned because the new machines offer what Lottery Secretary O’Connell describes as a “convenient and personal experience.” Kongsvik says that could further problems for people with gambling addictions. 

“Let’s take an individual who is addicted to lottery. Maybe they go to the counter, and you know they have a problem with gambling. They’re not just going to buy one scratch off ticket, or one lotto ticket. They’re going to buy $100-200 worth of tickets. Well, now,  they don’t have to be embarrassed about doing that. They can protect their gambling addiction. They can hid their gambling addiction by using these gambling machines.

O’Connell says compulsive behavior will continue happening with or without the new machines, but adds the lottery does what it can to encourage responsible play.

 The new full service machines are expected to hit stores within the next six months.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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