TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida may have just hit a jackpot.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has agreed to end its long-standing refusal to sell lottery tickets in its U.S. stores after reaching a deal with the Florida Lottery.
Starting in early October the retailer will embark on a pilot program at 27 Walmart neighborhood markets that stretch across central, southwest and South Florida.
The first Walmart stores expected to begin selling lottery tickets are located in Orlando. Ticket sales will start on Oct. 5 and then will ramp up in other locations by the middle of the month.
"We want to offer products our customers want," said Tara Raddohl, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville, Ark., based company. "We did some initial research and we determined it would be a good market to pilot in."
The move into Walmart stores represents a major victory for the Florida Lottery given the resistance that the retailer had in the past to lottery sales. Walmart stores in other countries sell lottery tickets but not in this country.
"It's new territory; we're breaking ground," said Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell.
Florida Lottery officials said today that the Walmart stores will sell tickets for its six terminal games such as Powerball and Mega Money as well as scratch-off tickets through instant ticket vending machines.
Florida sells lottery tickets at more than 13,000 locations, including in well-known supermarket chains such as Publix and Winn Dixie and in most convenience stores. But the state has been unable to get inside retailers as Walmart, Target or in any of the major drug store chains.
O'Connell said she reached out to Wal-Mart officials during the summer, stressing to them that their neighborhood market stores are reaching out to the same customers who shop at other grocery chains.
The stores that will carry lottery tickets in Florida are smaller than traditional Walmart supercenters. Instead the neighborhood markets sell groceries and usually feature a drive-in pharmacy.
"I think Wal-Mart felt comfortable with our approach," O'Connell said. "It's a much better model for them to pilot. I am just grateful for the opportunity."
Most Walmart neighborhood markets are located in the Orlando area although there are locations in Coral Springs, Tampa, Largo, Melbourne, Pompano Beach, Cape Coral and Fort Myers.
There is no timeline for how long the pilot program will last.
Raddohl said most Walmart pilot programs last for several months to determine if customers like them.
"We will see how it goes," she said.
O'Connell is hopeful that the pilot program will be such a success that Wal-Mart will expand it eventually to the chain's supercenters.
"You better believe it," she said.
The deal between the retailer and the Florida Lottery comes amid a time when the lottery is trying to push its sales back up in order to provide more money for education.
The Florida Lottery hit a peak of $4.2 billion in sales back in 2008 but then sales dropped during the recession and are just now starting to recover. The latest figures show that the Florida Lottery had $4.02 billion in sales for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. From that total about $1.18 billion went to schools and to pay for programs such as the state's Bright Futures scholarship.
This summer Florida Lottery officials went along with a proposal to revamp Powerball, the multi-state lottery game available in more than 40 states. Starting on Jan. 15 the price of Powerball tickets will go up to $2 but the size of the starting jackpot will double to $40 million and the odds of winning will increase.