January start date; drawings will move to Florida
Florida Lottery officials on Wednesday said they will add the national Powerball game to the state's portfolio in January and become the new host for the game's semiweekly drawings.
Florida was the only state with a lottery to not offer a multi-state game.
Powerball — the multi-state lottery game known for its mega-jackpots that can top $300 million — is bouncing into Florida lottery retailers in January.
Florida becomes the 30th state to join the game, along with Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. A $1 ticket buys a chance to match five white balls and one red ball drawn on Wednesday and Saturday nights — and a nine-digit payoff.
Eight other combinations also give players a chance to win.
As for winning an instant retirement, you still have a better chance of being struck by lightning, bitten by a shark or maybe both at the same time. The odds of winning Powerball's top prize: one in 146 million.
In contrast, chances of taking the Florida Lotto grand prize are one in 23 million.
The announcement comes at a time of stagnating sales for the Florida lottery. Ticket sales generate $4 billion annually, with most going to education. But state economists recently reduced by more than $150 million the amount projected to go to education over the next two years, citing rising gas prices and Floridians' "weak disposable income growth."
Leo DiBenigno, Florida's Lottery chief, acknowledges that sales at the Lottery's 13,500 retail outlets aren't what Gov. Charlie Crist and department officials want them to be.
"Over 50 percent of our retailers are convenience stores with gasoline stations," DiBenigno said. "I don't know about you, but when I go to fill up my gas tank, I'm not really in a good mood when I'm done."
Florida's Lotto jackpots are enough to quit your job; Powerball jackpots are enough to buy the company.
Already this year Powerball has had top prizes of $97 million, $180 million and $276 million. Florida's payout has cracked the $100 million mark only twice in almost three decades.
Florida's deal with the Multi-State Lottery Association, which directs Powerball, calls for the twice-weekly drawings to be moved from West Des Moines, Iowa, to the Sunshine State. A location has not been chosen.
Players buying tickets at one of the state's biggest Lottery retailers, Food & Lotto in Orlando, cheered the idea of the new game.
"Most people want to win some money, and Powerball — whoa, there's a lot of money involved," said Tony Moreno, 64, a retired New York City policeman. "I could help a lot of people, and I could help myself, too."
Bob Saxour, 56, liked the idea of generating more money for the state, particularly in these rocky economic times.
"It sure beats paying taxes," said Saxour, an Orlando locksmith.
Wednesday's move is not Florida's first pass at Powerball. In 1998, former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles approved a contract to bring the state into the game. But his successor, Republican Jeb Bush, rescinded the agreement in 1999.
Bush, no fan of gambling, said he didn't think Powerball would provide a reliable flow of money and might undermine existing games.
Crist, though, doesn't share those fears.
But the move isn't without its critics.
Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-St. Cloud, is chairman of a state House council that oversees the Lottery. DiBenigno testified to the council this spring that Lottery officials had no plans to join Powerball.
DiBenigno says conditions have changed since lawmakers adjourned in May — but Attkisson is livid.
"This is a very arrogant and y approach by a department that appeared before us at least a half-dozen times and told us they had no intention to move in this direction," he said.
The Legislature has fought Crist's efforts to expand gambling — even suing him this year over a deal giving the Seminole Tribe Las Vegas-style table games at its casinos in Florida. A decision by the Florida Supreme Court is pending.
Lawmakers this spring also rebuffed Crist's bid to boost Lottery advertising $5 million and install 1,000 new instant ticket machines to allow buyers to bypass checkout lines. In his budget proposal, the governor said his proposals would boost Lottery revenue $248 million.
And clearly, Crist hasn't given up the hope that gambling will brighten the state's sagging revenue picture, which forced year-over-year budget cuts of $6 billion. The Powerball move doesn't require legislative approval.
Florida Lottery Secretary Leo DiBenigno said Wednesday that times have changed.
"Like any other businesses have to change, we have to adjust to the marketplace," DiBenigno said. "The lottery will constantly re-evaluate its options."
Wednesday night's drawing was for $85 million.
Bennie Orcutt, 53, of Cantonment said he likely will be a frequent Powerball player.
And he knows what he would do should he win.
"I would take care of everything, give the relatives some and disappear," said Orcutt, who has played Powerball in other states.
Robert Dean, 26, of Pensacola said the most he has won playing Fantasy 5 every day is $120, and he will probably play Powerball.
"I just take risks," Dean said. "You never know. When I won that $120 I only had $10 left in my pocket."