LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Ohio-based grocery store chain has signed a contract with the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery to sell lottery tickets through vending machines.
Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue signed the agreement April 11 after the House Rules Committee declined to recommend passage of a Senate-approved bill that would bar the lottery from using the machines.
The Arkansas lottery began selling tickets through the machines on Feb. 3 at a Love's Travel Stop in North Little Rock, and the machines have since been placed in seven other stores.
The lottery has sold more than $115,000 in tickets through vending machines at those eight locations as of April 18, lottery spokeswoman Julie Baldridge told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Passailaigue has described ticket-vending machines as the future of the lottery business, comparing them to automated teller machines at banks. He disagrees with Family Council President Jerry Cox's contention that vending machines will lead to more minors purchasing lottery tickets.
Cox, who sent out letters last year to certain retailers urging them not to sell tickets through the machines, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he is starting to wonder whether the machines were not well-received by retailers around the state.
The Kroger deal is seen by some as a shot in the arm for the lottery's vending machine program, which has evolved slower than lottery officials expected.
"We should have somewhere between 40 and 50 machines deployed fairly soon," Lottery Commission Chairman Dianne Lamberth of Batesville said.
In December, a Kroger spokesman said the grocer probably wouldn't support putting the machines in its 33 stores that sell lottery tickets in Arkansas. But Joe Bell, manager of marketing and public affairs for Kroger's Delta Division, which includes Arkansas, said last week that Kroger now intends to put the machines in most of its stores in Arkansas as long as there is enough space for them.
Bell said the defeat of legislation to ban the lottery from selling tickets through machines absolutely led to the contract-signing with the lottery.
"The decisions we make in our stores are driven by our customers. We felt that this is something that our customers will want to have the option to use and have available to them at the different hours they shop."
Since it started on Sept. 28, 2009, the lottery has sold about $751 million in tickets and raised $156 million for college scholarships, Baldridge said. So far, more than 30,000 students have received lottery-financed scholarships.
The machines have been placed at six Loves Travel Stop stores in Morrilton, North Little Rock, Ozark, Prescott, Palestine and West Memphis, as well as at a Circle N Exxon store in Forrest City and an S&S Superstop store in Van Buren.
A spokesman for Oklahoma-based Love's Travel Stops didn't respond to requests for comment about the company's experience with the ticket-vending machines in Arkansas.
"We love it," Eddie Smith, owner of the S&S Superstop in Van Buren, said. "It's reduced the clutter around the counter. It gets people away from the counter and lets them play in peace."
He said he hasn't seen a child try to buy a ticket through the machine.
Mallory Nimocks, owner of Nimocks Oil Co., including the Circle N Exxon, said his customers and employees have become comfortable with the machine. It's several feet away from the counter where customers also can purchase lottery tickets through a sales clerk.
"It has been good for us, if other customers are in line, customers are comfortable in skipping the line and using the vending machine," he said.
Nimocks said his employees monitor the vending machine ticket sales and haven't had any problems with children trying to purchase tickets.
Lottery attorney Bishop Woosley since it deployed the machines in February, the lottery has received no reports of minors purchasing tickets through them.