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Online lotto system could hurt local retailers

Officials approve 'iHope' debit card

POSTED: July 23, 2012 11:28 p.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Lakeshore Texaco owner M.P. Patel reaches for a scratch-off lottery ticket Monday afternoon at his store. Patel predicts a drop in lottery ticket sales when customers are able to play certain games online.

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By the end of this year, Georgia Lottery customers could be able to purchase lotto tickets from home.

Last Thursday, lotto officials approved an online ticket system for the first time, with sales expected to begin this fall.

The online system is aimed at generating more revenue, something that lotto officials said could help boost funding for public education, including the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs.

“The Georgia Lottery Corp. board of directors voted Thursday to authorize the Lottery to explore an online play option,” Tandi Reddick, spokeswoman for the Georgia Lottery, said in an email. “The Georgia Lottery anticipates being able to offer three of its existing games — Fantasy 5, Mega Millions and Powerball — by the end of this calendar year. The Georgia Lottery’s mission is to responsibly maximize revenues for education.”

But some local store owners said the online option could detract from their sales.

“It’s not good for retailers,” said M.P. Patel, owner of Lakeshore Texaco on Dawsonville Highway.

Patel estimates the new online system could cause a 10 to 20 percent drop in his sales.

But he expects those who play scratch-off tickets to keep coming in.

“The online sales will affect us very hugely,” he said. “(But) the everyday customer who plays the scratch cards, they will still be playing that.”

He said he gets about 6 percent of his revenue from lotto tickets.

He estimates the biggest customer demographic he’ll likely lose are those who play infrequently — maybe once or twice a month.

“They’ll play online,” said Patel. “It’s a convenience for them.”

Georgia Lottery officials also approved a new debit card — the “iHOPE” card — that can be used for both lottery and retail transactions.

“The iHOPE card is a debit card that accesses an FDIC-insured bank account,” said Reddick. “This exciting new offering will provide Georgia Lottery players with a convenient, cashless option for purchasing their lottery tickets and enhanced player functionality.”

It’s unclear when exactly the rules will go into effect or what security features the online system will have, including making sure customers are at least 18 years old.

Some controls, officials said, could be mandatory registration, banking requirements that would match an applicant’s name, address and Social Security number and limits on how much account activity or playing time will be allowed.

But Patel said he can only speculate as to how the new features will affect his sales.

“We will just have to see it when it happens,” he said.

In March, Illinois became the first state to sell online tickets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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