Count Roxboro, North Carolina, resident Willie Scott among the fans of the still-growing North Carolina Education Lottery.
Of course, it helps that Scott still is counting his money.
"It's great," said Scott, who recently won $800,000 in a Powerball drawing. "It's the best thing because a lot of money was going out of state, but now that money is staying in the state to help with education."
Even with big winners such as Scott claiming life-altering prizes, the lottery has generated more than $170 million for education through its first six-and-a-half months of operation. That total is based on roughly 35 percent of the $492.1 million in sales going to education. Scott contributed to the state's coffers as well — he said he cleared about $549,000 after taxes.
State lawmakers were aiming for $425 million in revenues for education during the fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, but lottery sales will have to pick up to reach that goal. Sales of more than $233 million the first fiscal quarter netted more than $81 million for education, a pace that would equate to roughly $325 million over the course of the fiscal year. That is $100 million below the stated goal.
But continued success with Powerball sales — North Carolina is right at the top of the sales ladder in the 28-state lottery — and the launch of a couple of in-state games should boost the numbers.
North Carolina debuted Carolina Pick 3 on Oct. 6, and the first 11 days produced more than $3.5 million in sales. On Oct. 27, the state will roll out Carolina Cash 5.
"We fully expected that the first quarter of the year it was going to be difficult to meet the goals," North Carolina Education Lottery spokeswoman Pamela Walker said. "If we did, we would have been surprised because we didn't have our full complement of games.
"Also, the summer months are the slowest of the year because of summer vacations and things like that. We feel like our best months are going to be our two mid-quarters."
Scott said he hasn't tried out the new offerings yet. In fact, he hasn't even bought another Powerball ticket since his big score on Aug. 2.
"That was enough for me," Scott said. "I'm not a greedy man."
Scott is spending this October renovating a restaurant beside the Budget Inn in Roxboro, using some of his winnings to open the Boulevard Bar & Grill around Halloween.
It's an uplifting contrast to last October.
On Oct. 23 of last year, a dump truck that Scott was driving flipped twice, resulting in two broken bones in his back and surgery to put a metal plate in his shattered left arm. Scott couldn't work and was denied disability, a dire situation for a 40-year-old with two daughters attending N.C. Central University and two more at Winston-Salem State.
"The numbers weren't my miracle; that was my miracle," Scott said. "I'm a walking miracle off of that.
"I was nearly out of money, but I thought the Lord would bless me in another way."
Scott took the first step toward getting back on his feet in July, when he started working as a correctional officer at Polk Youth Institution in Butner. Shortly after that, Scott decided to buy the third lottery ticket of his life — his first ticket in North Carolina — after noticing that the jackpot for Powerball had ballooned to $178 million.
Scott let the computer at the Handi Cupboard in Roxboro randomly pick his numbers and was watching on the night of the drawing, when all five of his numbers came up. Scott missed on the Powerball number, but he had paid a second dollar for the "Powerplay" feature, and on this night a multiplier of four came up to quadruple his prize.
Not knowing what he had won, he headed back to the Handi Cupboard with his wife, Brenda, to find out.
"I was thinking it was like $8,000," he said. "At first the guy told me it was $200,000, then he saw it was $800,000.
"I just sat down, right there in the middle of the floor. My wife was jumping up and down screaming."
Once he had the money, minus about a quarter-million dollars in taxes, Scott bought some new vehicles — a Yukon Denali for himself, a Mazda CX-6 for his wife, and a 2003 Ford Mustang.
But the Scotts weren't entirely on Easy Street. Three days after Scott won, someone attempted to break into his house but sped off without entering, prompting Scott to get a concealed-weapon permit.
"It's a blessing, but sometimes I think it's a curse," Scott said. "I've got more cousins than I ever knew I had; I had to disconnect my phone for a week.
"So many people have asked for my help, and I want to help as many as I can but I can't help everybody. I'm bringing some jobs to the area — I've got nine employees at my new business. I always said that if I ever won, I would want to do something to help others."
Powerball has been a hit in North Carolina so far. Walker said that the state led the way in sales in 21 of the first 44 drawings it participated in. Pennsylvania, the most populous state that takes part in Powerball, led the way in the other 23 drawings. North Carolina is the second-largest Powerball state in terms of population.
Next week, North Carolina will launch a daily, mini-version of Powerball called Carolina Cash 5. Powerball players must match all five of their picks to the numbers pulled from a list of 55 number choices, and also correctly pick the Powerball number between 1 and 42 to hit the jackpot. Carolina Cash 5 players must match their five picks to those pulled from a list of 39 numbers. The game does not have an equivalent to the second-level selection of a Powerball number.
But like the Powerball, the jackpot will rise if no one hits it, though the top prize won't reach the astronomical heights seen in the national game. The one fixed prize amount for Carolina Cash 5 is for getting two numbers correct, in which case the player wins his dollar back.
Odds of hitting all five numbers are 1 in 575,757. Prizes will be set up to give about half the money generated by ticket sales to winners and the other half to education and to administrative costs.
Already under way is Carolina Cash 3, a daily drawing in which players select a three-digit number between 000 and 999. Players can win anywhere from $40 to $500 if they hit all three numbers. The winnings depend on whether they wagered on hitting the numbers in exact order or whether they played for 50 cents or $1.
Odds of winning the top prize of $500 are 1 in 1,000.
The lottery's bread-and-butter product continues to be instant scratch-off tickets. Thirty different versions between $1 and $5 in cost are now available with the launch of a Carolina Hurricanes series earlier this month.
But there may be more numbers games still to come, all designed to help the state's numbers when it comes to raising funds for education.
"We are looking at the possibility of a four-digit game, maybe some time next year," Walker said. "It's a unique situation where we're surrounded by lottery states, so we have a lot of players who already know what they like and what they want.
"We got such a huge amount of requests through e-mail and over the phone for a pick-three game that we went ahead and got that in place. We're starting the Cash 5 game soon, and now we're getting quite a few requests for a four-digit game."