The Florida Lottery will implement a series of changes January 31, including new lottery machines, changes to the Pick 4 game, and new game called Grouper.
The new game Grouper is really a new way to play Florida lottery games, rather than being a new game itself. When players purchase a Grouper ticket, they pay $5 for quick picks of five existing games and get a sixth quick pick -- for free -- of a randomly selected game.
On the same day Grouper sales begin, lottery retailers throughout the state will start using new computer terminals. Many stores have had the new terminals for weeks, sitting side-by-side on their counters with the current lottery computers.
It is the first big change in the Florida Lottery since the state overhauled its Mega Money game about a year ago, changing the format to create larger jackpots but making it easier to win smaller prizes. Fantasy 5 was overhauled in 2001, awarding a free quick pick for matching two of the five numbers drawn.
Free tickets have been given in the past, but only as an award in a drawn game rather than as an incentive to play the game.
In addition to Grouper, there will be more ways to win at Play 4, and online tickets will be printed on thermal paper, similar to the receipt at a gas pump, only better quality and wider.
Changes are needed to keep interest in the games high, a lottery official said.
"We're a business," said spokeswoman Leslie D. Steele. "We need to have fresh and new ideas to keep our players happy."
Online sales totaled $1.712 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, down slightly from a record $1.794 billion the previous year, lottery spokesman Alfred Bea said.
The highest Lotto jackpot in fiscal 2004 was $75 million, he said, compared with a $100 million jackpot during the record year. "That really does rev up the excitement and the interest," Bea said.
The state has promised retailers an advertising blitz to promote Grouper and will double the commission paid to retailers to 60 cents a ticket for the first three months Grouper is available.
All numbers on a Grouper ticket will be picked by the lottery's computer. The ticket will include one play each in the Lotto, Fantasy 5, Mega Money, Cash 3 and Play 4 games. The computer will randomly select from the Lotto, Fantasy 5 and Mega Money for the free sixth play.
Play slips for the five online games also will have a new look, including the addition of five more play panels -- for a total of 10 -- for the Lotto and Fantasy 5. And players can select a Grouper ticket from the play slips of every online game. Players can continue to use their old play slips even when the new terminals come online.
The Florida Lottery began online games April 29, 1988, and has added games and tweaked the existing ones over the years.
The new computer terminals are being installed by GTECH Holdings, a Rhode Island company that provides services and equipment to lotteries in 30 states as well as for 50 international lotteries. GTECH has a six-year contract with the Florida Lottery and receives 1 percent of sales, or almost $20 million a year, Bea said.