As deadline nears, work moves swiftly
Each morning, somebody changes the big numbers on a chalkboard easel in the lobby of the Tennessee Lottery's busy headquarters.
Today it reads "58 Days!"
That's the countdown to the targeted first day of lottery ticket sales, on or before Feb. 10. With thousands of dollars in incentive bonuses for lottery employees tied to that date - and millions in college scholarships to be funded by August - work is moving swiftly here and across the state.
Contractors are installing lottery terminals and satellite dishes at hundreds of convenience stores and other outlets. Background checks on hundreds of others who want to sell lottery tickets are under way.
A large advertising contract will be awarded soon. Sites of lottery field offices in Memphis, at 5266 Summer, and other cities were announced Friday.
The lottery and its largest vendors are hiring permanent and temporary workers: up to 250 by the lottery itself. Some of them work into the wee hours at the lottery headquarters, a glass-skinned building north of downtown Nashville that once housed a telecommunications company.
Most of this activity is out of view of the public, who officials hope will line up to buy lottery tickets in less than two months. The television advertising barrage won't begin until a week or two before the first tickets are sold. That's also about when the purple, green and yellow Tennessee Lottery logo signs will go up in the stores, said Lottery President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Paul.
"We're in the process right now of building infrastructure," said Paul.
It's been 13 months since Tennessee voters removed the state Constitution's lottery prohibition, six months since the state legislature approved a lottery and five months since the seven-member lottery board was appointed.
A status report:
Lottery retailers. Nearly 2,100 retailers have been approved statewide, a rapid ramp-up since the first 27 were announced only nine days ago.
Officials expect to have about 3,000 outlets selling tickets on the first day. Applications for vendors are available at the lottery's Web site (www.tnlottery.gov), by phone at (615) 253-6881 or by mail at Tennessee Lottery, P.O. Box 23470, Nashville 37202. There is a $95 application fee, and retailers must undergo credit and criminal background checks and not owe any state taxes.
Retailers, who keep 6.5 percent of lottery sales as their commission, are being notified by mail when their applications are approved or rejected.
A contractor has about 100 two-person crews working across the state installing the computer terminals that will link retailers to the lottery network, Tennessee Lottery spokesman Will Pinkston said.
The terminals will print and validate tickets and exchange data between the retailers and lottery headquarters.
Scholarships. The lottery law requires the state to use lottery proceeds for post-secondary scholarships and, if any is left, for preschool programs and K-12 construction.
Scholarships range from $1,250 per school year at Tennessee Technology Centers up to $4,000 at accredited four-year public and private institutions in Tennessee.
Applications for scholarships can be filed starting Jan. 1, according to Michael Roberts, executive director of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. Roberts encourages students to file applications by Feb. 15.
Eligibility requirements that emerged from a prolonged debate and compromise by state legislators are a little complicated because there are five categories of grants (none are loans). Parents and students can review the requirements and get an application at TSAC's Web site (www.tennessee.gov/tsac), by calling toll-free 1-800-342-1663, by mail at TSAC, 404 James Robertson Parkway, Suite 1950, Parkway Towers, Nashville 37243-0820 or from a high school guidance counselor.
Generally, lottery scholarships are available for students who graduated from high school (or obtained GEDs) in 2003 and later, with high school grade-point averages in the college core curriculum of at least 3.0 and a 19 on the ACT or 890 on the SAT. Smaller grants are available for low-income students with at least 2.75 GPAS and 18 ACTs or 860 SATs.
And grants of $1,250 are available to anyone, regardless of age and academic records, to attend Tennessee Technology Centers, which are the state's vocational-technical schools.
Applications are made using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, available online and by mail from TSAC or from guidance counselors. It's the same form students use to apply for other government-sponsored financial aid.
A public information session is set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Memphis City Schools auditorium, 2597 Avery St. TSAC officials will be present.
Lottery games. For nearly the first two months of the lottery's operation, the only tickets that will be sold are "instant tickets" - tickets with pre-printed, hidden numbers and symbols that buyers either scratch off or pull tabs to reveal.
The more traditional lottery tickets in which players pick out their numbers - or let the computer pick numbers randomly - are targeted for sale by April 8. Lottery officials call them "online" tickets because they are printed from a computer terminal on the spot, from a numbers card the buyer fills out.
Even the instant tickets must be run through the retailer's computer terminal to be validated, as a security measure to block theft of tickets.
Multi-state games. Don't expect to play the huge-jackpot, multi-state games like Powerball, Mega Millions and Lotto South in Tennessee until later in the year. Pinkston said officials aren't sure which multi-state game Tennessee will apply to join.
But it's up to the other states to allow a new state in - and they aren't likely to do that until Tennessee's lottery has been up and running for a few months with a good track record, Pinkston said.
Ticket prices and prizes. Traditional lottery tickets are $1 per entry, or set of numbers. The jackpot depends on the number of tickets sold for each drawing. Winners traditionally have 180 days after a drawing to claim their prizes. Winning instant tickets must be submitted within 90 days of the end of the game.
The prices of the instant tickets that will go on sale first will vary but haven't been set yet, and neither have the prize ranges or the game designs. In Kentucky, instant tickets cost between $1 and $20 each.
Paul said that in most states, instant tickets can win from $2 to $50,000. Most states have dozens of instant ticket games going at once, many with exotic names associated with casino action or things associated with that state.
To generate interest when the lottery is launched, there will be instant ticket jackpot drawings in which buyers or winners of instant tickets will enter their tickets - after collecting their initial prizes - for larger jackpots.
"As we get closer, we'll design the games and then have a marketing campaign informing people how to play and where to buy," Paul said.