Pay-at-pump option may fuel lottery ticket sales

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 28, 2012 - 11:54 PM

Minnesota tests debit-card payments at gas stations, ATMs.

Lottery jackpots are growing more quickly, and ticket sales are soaring all over the country. Now Minnesota is the first state to make buying tickets even faster, at gas pumps and ATMs.

With a debit card, driver's license and cellphone number, buyers can try their luck at a touch screen. The system is being tested at nine gas stations and 19 ATMs in the Twin Cities, allowing people to buy quick-pick Powerball and Mega Millions tickets without going inside a store. Since October, about $5,260 worth of Powerball tickets have been sold that way.

"People are always in a hurry nowadays," said Minnesota Lottery executive director Ed Van Petten. "The thought is it takes 10 to 15 seconds to go through the process, and I think people would say, 'Why not. I'll give it a shot.'"

Andrew Anderson, who works at the Calhoun Beach BP station in Minneapolis, said that, in the days leading up to Wednesday's $550 million drawing, many patrons avoided convenience store counters.

Joel Bard, a Minnesota State Lottery employee, was at the BP station Wednesday, explaining the technology to people as they pumped their gas.

"My job is to answer their questions and walk them through the process," Bard said.

Lottery buyers insert their debit card into the slot used to pay for gasoline.

They then select a prompt to buy tickets, choose how many, and after entering a cellphone number and other identification information, a ticket is dispensed. A $1 fee is charged for each transaction, and there is a minimum purchase of three Powerball or five Mega Millions tickets.

A text message is also sent to the buyer's cellphone with a link to the numbers. Prizes up to $599 are automatically deposited into the bank account connected to the debit card.

Bard said he approaches the target audience for the technology: people who pay for gas without going inside the convenience store.

Sales shoot up

The new buying option is being rolled out at a time when lottery sales in Minnesota are already at a record high. Sales for the 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, topped $520 million, an increase of $15.6 million from the previous year.

Nationally, Powerball sales reached a record $3.96 billion in fiscal 2012 and are expected to reach $5 billion this year.

Minnesota was one of at least two dozen states to post record sales over the past year.

For Wednesday's big $550 million Powerball jackpot, 130,000 tickets a minute were being sold across the country -- about six times the volume a week ago.

Powerball and Mega Millions are played in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. The larger pool of players means jackpots expand faster, which increases the buzz, which increases sales.

"The purpose for the lottery is to generate revenue for the respective states and their beneficiary programs," said Norm Lingle, chairman of the Powerball Game Group. "High jackpots certainly help the lottery achieve those goals," said Lingle, who also is executive director of the South Dakota Lottery.

Van Petten said the easy access has some worried about its abuse, but he said the State Lottery has worked to address that.

Lottery employees at the nine participating gas stations are checking driver's licenses. Eventually, lottery players will have to scan their licenses, but that software is operational only at the ATMs for now, Van Petten said.

The software has some limitations, such as a 24-hour delay when buying tickets at the pump or at ATMs.

Last-minute hopefuls for Wednesday night's Powerball drawing had to use the convenience store counter.

Andrea Davis, 23, of Minneapolis, said she only occasionally buys lottery tickets, but that the new technology may change that.

"I'd be more apt to buy one if I don't have to come inside," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028 Twitter: @amatos12

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