Trailblazing N.H. had first-in-nation lottery
"A tragic mistake." "A scandalous experiment in state financing." "The shame of New Hampshire."
Opponents of expanded gambling argue that it would hurt the state's image and cause more problems than it would solve. But the quotes above aren't from the current legislative debate; they're from newspaper editorials written in 1964, when New Hampshire launched the nation's first legal state-run lottery.
As the state considers allowing video slot machines at racetracks and other locations, it happens to be marking the 45th anniversary of its first sweepstakes. In contrast to the local opposition the current proposals face, efforts to start the lottery elicited outrage on a national scale.
"It is an unhappy commentary of human nature that the citizens of New Hampshire, apparently unwilling to carry a normal tax load, are tapping one of man's less noble impulses to raise money for the education of their children," editorialized the Milwaukee Journal.
"Many solid citizens are convinced that the horses in the inaugural running of the New Hampshire Sweepstakes will be officially trampling New Hampshire's very morality in the dust," lamented The Saturday Evening Post.
Even Reader's Digest weighed in.
"Is either New Hampshire or Uncle Sam so hard up that this shabby dodge is the only way out? ... It will mean moral bankruptcy for New Hampshire," the magazine concluded.
Opponents offer similarly dire warnings today, arguing that expanding gambling will increase crime and political corruption, destroy families and damage the state's quality of life. And though backers claim slots could bring in about $200 million a year at a time when the state faces a significant budget deficit, the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling says expanded gambling will damage tourism and intensify pressures on state and local budgets.
Those arguments seem to have prevailed so far: The House recently killed two bills to expand gambling, and the Senate postponed action on its versions of the bills last week when it became clear the votes weren't yet there.
Getting the original lottery through the Legislature also was a chore: State Rep. Larry Pickett of Keene proposed the bill five times over 10 years before he succeeded. Gov. John King finally signed the bill in April 1963, and the first tickets went on sale March 12, 1964.
The lottery, then called the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, was tied to horse races at Rockingham Park in Salem. Tickets were $3 each and sold at the track and a handful of liquor stores. Drawings were held after $1 million worth of tickets were sold, about every three to four months, said Rick Wisler, executive director of the state lottery commission.
The top prize was $100,000. News accounts of the first race describe one $100,000 winner clasping rosary beads in her white-gloved hands during the race. A Massachusetts couple who won $50,000 described watching the race on television at home, saying their young children were disappointed to learn that they had won money, not the horses. A 21-year-old college student who also won $50,000 was dubbed the "Cinderella Girl" of the sweepstakes.
"Carol Ann Lee, of Worcester, won $50,000 last September in the first Sweeps held in this country in the 20th century," wrote the Boston Sunday Advertiser in May 1965. "Now she has love, happiness and a secure future."
To ensure integrity, the state hired a former FBI agent to direct the lottery, which operated out of one room in the Statehouse. Since then, it's expanded from one game to up to 70 instant games a year with ticket prices ranging from $1 to $30. The amount returned each year to public education has reached $80 million, though ticket sales have slumped along with the economy recently.
Though more than half of all states with lotteries reported sales increases in the last half of 2008, instant ticket sales were down 9 percent in New Hampshire. State revenues from multistate lotteries, such as Powerball, also have dropped, though daily number games were more stable.
Wisler said he is confident sales will rebound.
"We're really no different than most other products that people will buy on impulse when they go into a store, depending on the amount of discretionary income they have, but we bounced back in the early 80s, there's no doubt we're going to bounce back from this," Wisler said.
Lottery celebrates at longest-running retail outlets
Patrons of the Deep Meadow Variety store on Linden Street got lucky last Thursday.
On March 12, any patron who purchased New Hampshire Powerball, Tri-State Megabucks, HotLotto Sizzler, Tri-State Pick3/Pick 4 Daily Numbers, Tri-State Weekly Grand, or scratch tickets received a free T-shirt, mug, or deck of cards. The give-a-ways were part of the New Hampshire Lottery's 45th anniversary celebration at the lottery's 13 longest-running retail outlets.
Lottery representatives were present at the Exeter store, as well as at each of the 12 other locations, to distribute gifts and prizes. Every customer purchasing a lottery item was also entered in a drawing for a party-cooler full of lottery gear, including a towel, hat and tote bag.
Lottery representative Eileen Gromelski, who was on hand at Deep Meadow, said the event was a way to celebrate the anniversary, while rewarding the store and its customers.
"We have this couple of hours where we'll be giving away mugs, shirts, mini-radios, and we're trying to get people to come down to boost the store's sales and give them some recognition," she said.
"If we can generate a few more sales for these places, that's what it's all about," she said.
That goal seemed to be achieved as a steady stream of customers came through the door during the event's first hour.
"There was much more of a crowd than we've ever had at 2 o'clock on a Thursday," said Deep Meadow employee Donna Burt.
In preparation for the event, Burt said signs were posted heralding the giveaways and prizes, and employees made sure to relay the information to regular customers.
Deep Meadow regular Eva Frey, who lives just across the street from the store, said her visit March 12 yielded a deck of playing cards and a coffee, which she said would be put to good use.
"I get rewarded today," said Kim Binette of Raymond, upon receiving a gift-bag just for following her routine of playing her daily numbers. Inside the gift bag was a variety of items, including a T-shirt and eye-glass case, but it was the shirt that really made Kim's day.
"I was hoping I'd get a T-shirt," she exclaimed after seeing the contents of the bag.
Greenland resident Jim Rolston said that, although he is not a regular lottery player, he decided to make an exception. He made off with a shirt, coffee mug and a deck of cards.