AUSTIN, Tx. — The Texas Lottery Commission took a step Tuesday toward expanding state gambling options to include Powerball, with a chance for the first ticket to be sold here Jan. 31.
"I think we would be remiss in at least not stepping out there and trying it. If we see it doesn't work, we can certainly pull back out," said Chairwoman Mary Ann Williamson before the commission unanimously voted to publish proposed game rules for public comment.
If the panel gives final approval to the rules early next year, the first Powerball ticket could be sold in Texas on Jan. 31, staff said.
Texas already is one of 12 states in the Mega Millions lottery game, and officials for years have discussed the idea of adding Powerball to the mix. The largest Mega Millions jackpot has been $370 million; the largest Powerball jackpot has been $365 million.
Last month the two multi-jurisdictional games agreed to allow states to participate in both. Previously, states picked one or the other.
Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands now take part in Powerball.
Lottery staff described the cross-sell agreement between Mega Millions and Powerball as a step toward a national game, which Williamson cited as a reason for trying the venture: "I certainly think we want to be at the table with everybody else."
The 12 states that now take part in Mega Millions have a combined population of 161 million. The 33 Powerball jurisdictions have a total population of 130 million.
One big difference with Powerball is that its advertised jackpots are not guaranteed, officials said.
For example, if Powerball advertises a $150 million jackpot but subsequent ticket sales will support only a smaller prize, the winner gets whatever the ticket sales will support.
Texas cannot change the way the game runs, but officials said they could work to ensure it is clear that Powerball jackpots are estimated.
"I think we'll have to live with the modest disappointment of someone thinking they were getting 365 million pre-tax dollars (but instead) getting 363 million pre-tax dollars," said Commissioner David Schenck.
Adding Powerball to Texas would generate an estimated $35 million a year in revenue, which would go to public education, according to commission staff. The estimate takes into account the idea that some people would buy Powerball instead of other tickets.
Self-appointed "lottery watchdog" Dawn Nettles predicted, "It's going to kill (the state jackpot game) Lotto Texas."
"They're not going to get more money out of the players, because the people don't have it to give," Nettles said. "All they're going to do is divide their money amongst the games."
Nettles made similar claims when Mega Millions was added to the state's game lineup, yet Texas Lotto continues to perform within expectations, and Mega Millions did add additional revenue to the bottom line.
Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said his group is most concerned about instant-win scratch tickets because they are impulse purchases.
He said that as a jackpot game, Powerball is "pretty benign." He added, however, "We don't think it will solve any of the budget problems or add any more money to the state."