Buying lottery tickets as Christmas gifts hasn't caught on at east Nashville's Community Market, one of the city's most popular convenience stores for players to buy games.
The idea never dawned on Seneca Bradley, 28, who plays there occasionally.
But a $1 or $5 lottery game just may be the perfect alternative to a Christmas card, which would cost about the same, he said.
Holiday-themed TV and radio commercials encourage people to buy lottery items everything from scratch-off games to Powerball tickets and suggest they would make great stocking stuffers.
"But you might give away a losing ticket," said Bradley, who works at a restaurant supply company and for UPS. "That would take away my joy."
Tennessee Lottery President Rebecca Paul said the holiday ad campaigns are typical of those in other lottery states. This is the first Christmas in the Volunteer State since the lottery started last January.
It's an effective marketing strategy because lottery tickets are inexpensive gifts that can potentially grow in value, according to a Vanderbilt University assistant professor of management who has studied lotteries.
But there are detractors, particularly among some in the religious and conservative community who have been opposed to the lottery since the beginning.
They say gambling is a vice, and it's offensive to try to generate more lottery sales during a sacred season.
"It was tacky," said Bobbie Patray of Nashville, who has heard the radio ad. She is state chairwoman of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group that concentrates on family issues.
"Surely, there are less offensive ways to promote gambling than encouraging them as stocking stuffers," she said. "People would much rather have the cash than a ticket that will probably be worthless."
The Rev. Enoch Fuzz said, "Jesus would not play, nor support, the lottery.
"It only adds insult to injury to think people would suggest a lottery ticket purchase as a gift associated with the birth of Jesus Christ," said Fuzz, pastor of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church.
"I wish we could please everybody all the time, but we can't do that," the lottery's Paul said.
She described the TV ad as a "nice, soft, pretty commercial," and it is the lottery's second-best-received advertisement, based on comments from the public. Commercials promoting the lottery-funded HOPE scholarships have attracted the most positive feedback, she said.
The commercials began airing on TV and radio statewide Thanksgiving week and will wrap up Dec. 24. The air time is estimated to cost $900,000, lottery spokeswoman Kym Gerlock said.
The ads may have contributed to last week's high level of scratch-off game sales $12.5 million the highest level since April, Paul said. But some of that may have to do with a $174 million Powerball jackpot attracting more players and also with more people picking up lottery tickets while out Christmas shopping, she said.
Piyush Kumar, an assistant professor of management at VU, said a gift of a lottery ticket was like a free trial offer to the receivers, benefiting the lottery.
"It's a little better than giving a Christmas card, but they're priced about the same," said Kumar, who said he was familiar with research on the economics of how and why people play the lottery.
"You may be giving a gift for a dollar, but in your own mind you could be giving away potentially $300, $500 or even $1 million," he said.
But there is a downside. The receiver may not play the lottery and may become hooked, he said.
The holiday campaign takes a softer approach, a "soft sell," Paul said.
And the ad doesn't suggest tickets as a Christmas present but rather as an add-on, placed in gift bows or in a stocking, she said.
The radio spot is more specific, suggesting that buyers can "show you care" by presenting tickets to your "mailman, handyman, the guy who cuts the lawn, neighbors and co-workers, the gals at the salon."
The TV ad shows a cozy living room setting, with the lottery's three new holiday scratch-off tickets peeking out of a coffee cup and stocking and hung on a Christmas tree. There is no narration.
The ad closes on a golden-haired puppy with a "Holiday Cash" lottery ticket tied around its neck with a red ribbon.
Freida Moore, 51, a homemaker in Rockvale, Tenn., said the ad was cute and sure to catch the attention of children. But, added Moore, who opposes the lottery, "It's sort of like a real surprise when at the end you see 'Tennessee lottery.' "