Washington lottery players can expect new green tickets July 2, the date the state-run gambling enterprise switches to new machines in its retail outlets.
The switch comes at a time the state Lottery is struggling to maintain its share of the state's exploding gambling market. But the change is not expected to boost the state's shrinking share of the $1.7 billion that gamblers lose each year in Washington.
The change in ticket stock is tied to the installation of new ticket-dispensing machines that are more up to date and use a touch-screen function, Lottery spokeswoman Jacque Coe said.
"The machines we have are old by lottery technology standards," Coe said.
"Whereas the old lottery terminals were push-button, these are intuitive; they are touch screen. So they are easier for the retailer to operate."
"On July 2, we'll go ahead and flip the switch. It'll go live," Coe said.
Among South Sound retailers with new gear already installed is Farelli's Pizza and Pool Co., off Yelm Highway south of Lacey.
"It's OK," Corrine Heck, gambling manager for Farelli's, said of the ticket-dispensing machine Friday.
"I'm so used to the other one, it seemed a little faster. But this one is smaller, and it fits better in the space we have for it."
As for customers, "They just want more winners," Heck said.
Indeed. The changes in machinery come at a time when the state Lottery is steadily losing its share of the gambling market. The Lottery has seen its overall take of the state gambling dollar plummet in the past decade, dropping to 10 percent last year from 35 percent in 1996, according to data kept by the Washington State Gambling Commission.
The big winner, by contrast, has been the tribal casino industry, which in the past half-decade has seen an explosion in the use of electronic slot machines lift its share from 10 percent, or $50 million, in 1996 to a whopping 61 percent last year. Private card rooms also have grown to 19 percent of the market, up from 3 percent a decade ago.
But of the $1.7 billion that gamblers lost last year to casinos, lotteries, card rooms, horse racing, bingo, pull tabs and punch boards, the lion's share, $1 billion, now goes to tribal casinos.
Several customers interviewed at the Texaco Stop In Grocery in Tumwater said the low odds of winning is a reason they don't buy lottery tickets.
"I have my own money pit," quipped Sara Huntington, a librarian from Olympia. "I own horses."
"It's been a while since I bought one," added Rob Leister of Lacey. "It's easier to buy a Mega Millions (ticket) when you see it at $127 million" for a jackpot.
"It's just a waste," said Jeff Wells of Olympia who had scraped away six lottery tickets. "I just bought six, all six of them losers."
Even with the loss of market share, the state-run lottery games put $102 million in profits into education construction for K-12 schools and universities statewide last year. That's about 2 percent of the education budget, according to the Lottery's Web site.
Coe said the Lottery is forecasting total sales revenues of $480 million this year and net receipts of about $191 million — with revenues inching up to $490 million in 2007. Those figures are better than the Lottery has seen in a few years as net-receipts have hovered between $195.4 million and $150 million in the past decade.
Actual profits for schools would be lower.
"There is a lot of interest in the entertainment dollar in this state," Coe said of the Lottery's relative decline in popularity when measured against tribal casinos and other venues. "It is an extremely competitive environment."
The Lottery agency has no plans to introduce new games that might capture more attention than the Lotto, Quinto, Daily Keno or multi-state Mega Millions games, which are complemented by several scratch-ticket offerings. The agency spends about $6.4 million a year in advertising.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who at times sounds less antagonistic toward gambling than her predecessor, Gary Locke, is not calling for any major changes, either.
"I haven't heard her say to the Lottery, 'Go forth and make a bunch more money,' " said Marty Brown, legislative director for the governor.
But state Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, is among those who would like to consider looking at new gambling options for the state. Alexander supported a proposal several years ago that would have allowed Keno drawings as often as every five minutes, which he still thinks is worth looking at.
"I believe the Lottery dollars will continue to be a good, solid source of money for the state. The question is, will the growth in Lottery dollars keep pace with other revenue? I think that's a question that needs to be looked at, and we hopefully can bring in people with expertise to see if there are ways to bring in additional revenue," Alexander said.
Brown said there is more to consider than just the Lottery, because under federal law, tribes could offer any games the state does. And recently, tribes have clearly done better with their lottery-based video-slot machines than the state has done with its Lotto.
"It's not realistic to only look at lottery without looking at the whole gambling picture in our state anymore. Gambling is much, much bigger than when we created the Lottery in the early 1980s," said Brown, who co-authored the original bill with then-Gov. John Spellman's chief of staff, Steve Excell. "If we did five-minute keno, anybody (on reservations) could do five-minute keno. So I think you have to look at the whole picture."
"It's probably a lot easier to play 5-minute Keno in a casino than sitting in a 7-Eleven," Brown added.
The new machines and green — instead of pink — lottery tickets coming to the state's 3,500 lottery retailers July 2 will not carry an extra cost to taxpayers, said Jacque Coe, state Lottery spokeswoman.
GTECH, the national gambling firm based in Rhode Island that operates the state's various lottery games, is paying for the new machines under terms of its contract with the state, Coe said. GTECH last year won a new contract to operate the lottery games for six years — with options for another four that could make the total contract worth $93 million.
GTECH had held the previous contract, which will lapse June 30, and has operated the state's lottery system under contract since 1995.
Runner-up in the bidding was Scientific Games of Georgia, which now is Washington's instant-ticket contractor.
The new contract calls for GTECH to receive 2.075 percent of gross ticket sales, a slightly smaller cut than the 2.12 percent under the old contract. How much more money that means for schools is yet known.