Fourteen Western North Carolina lottery retailers were cited for selling tickets to minors in the state's first test of the underage law, according to state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division records.
A two-month investigation done in August and September randomly checked 348 retailers statewide. Of those, teenagers were successful 98 times in buying $1 scratch-off tickets.
Thirty-eight of those stores are in Charlotte, 33 in Raleigh, 13 in Greensboro and eight in Greenville.
The state's first lottery tickets hit stores in March. Random checks happen once a quarter.
State law prohibits teenagers from buying or cashing in winning lottery tickets. Selling a minor a lottery ticket is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which often carries a fine and court costs. Offenders with clean records could be sentenced up to 45 days of community service.
You can't tell by looking
But that doesn't stop convenience store clerks from selling the games, said Ron Kaylor, ALE supervisor for the state's 19 western counties.
Some clerks don't check IDs. They may either forget or don't see selling lottery tickets to teenagers as a serious offense. Other clerks check IDs and miscalculate the age. But there are tools to help, Kaylor said.
Many grocery stores have scanners that ask for the customer's birth date whenever a lottery ticket, pack of cigarettes or a six pack of beer is scanned. The clerk enters it and the machine calculates the customer's age.
Drivers' licenses have green, yellow and red borders to indicate age restrictions. A green border means the customer is 21 and older and has no restrictions. A yellow border means the customer is 18 and can buy lottery tickets and tobacco products. A red border means the customer is a younger teenager.
"Every generation thinks kids look older today," Kaylor said. "That's why we say check people who are 30 or younger because you just can't tell by looking at them."
Teenagers still succeed part of the time
But mistakes still happen.
Triangle Stop #208 in Brevard was cited in September for selling a ticket to a minor.
In this case, the clerk checked the ID but miscalculated the age, said Hall Waddell, who owns the chain of 10 convenience stores in Henderson and Transylvania counties.
Waddell said his company conducts an internal check once a month of illegal sales of lottery tickets, cigarettes and alcohol through a "mystery shopper" program.
"When we find that we didn't do what we're supposed to do, we retrain those people," Waddell said.
Not all stores are so careful. Statewide, teenagers were successful in 28 percent of stores checked, a noncompliance rate that is too high, said Mike Robertson, state ALE director.
Teenagers in state stings have been successful 18 percent to 20 percent of the time in buying tobacco and alcohol, respectively.
"In areas where we train a lot, the buy rate comes down," Robertson said. "Fewer people will sell."
State lottery administrators have their own training program that retailers go through when they first sign on to sell the games. Retailers also sign a contract that includes a "no sales to minors" provision. Daily reminders are also scrolled through on lottery terminals, said Alice Garland, lottery spokeswoman.
"We take it very seriously," Garland said. "If a retailer is cited by ALE, then we send them a first-warning letter and the sales rep meets personally with the store owner."
Retailers who commit a second offense within three years are suspended from selling lottery tickets for a month. A third offense during that same time means the retailer can be permanently banned from selling the games.