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Tennessee game has border stops ready to cash in

Dec 19, 2003, 3:10 am

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Tennessee LotteryTennessee Lottery: Tennessee game has border stops ready to cash in

Some stores plan to expand; 1st lottery outlets at state line

Just 60 days to the opening of the Tennessee lottery, and the folks who own the Chevron station in Ardmore right at Exit 1 on Interstate 65 will be ready: They plan to tear down the building and put up a larger one with better parking and more counter space.

And all that should be done in time for the first tickets to be sold on Feb. 10, as they will be across the state, said Rhonda Mills, a store employee.

Tennessee is setting up its first lottery outlets in stores along its borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi to reap proceeds from its neighbors.

Ardmore Exxon, just across Tennessee 7 at the same exit, will not be expanded, the store's clerk said Monday, but the store is waiting for approval to sell lottery tickets, too.

Lottery sales, 35 percent of which will provide college scholarships for Tennessee students, are expected to bring extra traffic to stores, particularly those near state lines. But with store owners receiving just 6 percent of ticket sales, the sales may cover only the cost of staffing the stores to handle the extra transactions, said Bill Parsons, who, with his brothers, owns several Shell convenience stores in Fayetteville.

Parsons expects lottery sales to be approved at all of their locations. Their Shell station on U.S. 64 at Wilson Parkway has been approved already.

Across the state, more than 2,000 businesses have been approved for lottery sales, a process that requires a $95 application fee and criminal and business background checks for applicants. In Giles, Lincoln and Franklin counties, 40 businesses have already been approved, said Kym Gerlock, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., speaking from her Nashville office Monday afternoon.

In Alabama, Limestone County borders Giles, and Jackson County lies immediately south of Franklin County.

Lottery sales must be kept separate from other transactions. The touch-screen computers being provided to vendors will have their own cash drawer, said Betty Woodard, who owns and operates the Conoco station just a stone's throw north of Alabama on U.S. 431/231, the main road between Huntsville and Fayetteville.

Store owners stand to win along with their luckiest customers.

"Hopefully, someone will hit it big. We get a cut of that, too," Parsons said.

There will be a whole lot of money to split up.

Lottery officials project sales of $900 million during the lottery's first year. The lottery must raise $88 million to cover tuition for students expected to apply. Applicants must complete college preparation courses and earn at least a 19 on the ACT college preparation test or an 890 combined score on the SAT. Students can qualify for up to $3,000 a year to attend a four-year public or private college in Tennessee. Scholarships for two-year community colleges are also offered.

The scholarships will be open to students in the class of 2003 and beyond. Additional scholarships of up to $1,000 a year are available to students from low-income families or to students who earn very high test scores. The scholarships can be extended for up to five years, as long as students continue their studies full time and make at least a 3.0 grade point average.

Once the scholarships have been funded, the Legislature has designated the extra money to fund building improvements for kindergarten through 12th grade schools, and early childhood and after-school programs, Gerlock said.

Half of all the proceeds will return to those who play in prizes for the scratch-off tickets or regular lottery tickets.

The lottery is based on the way Georgia runs its games - no surprise there, since Rebecca Paul, chief executive officer of the state Lottery Corp., had run that lottery until this year.

Paul signs her letters with green ink in a flourish on stationery that sports the cheerful lottery logo, a stylized "T" spouting sparkling gold stars against a green background bordered with purple.

The lottery is meant to raise money for education, but to be fun, too, for those who play it, Gerlock said.

From what she's seen in other states, the lottery should bring a lot of traffic to her store, Woodard said as she waited on customers Monday afternoon. She can remember having to park three blocks from the store where she worked in Washington state when the jackpot there edged to $150 million.

She said regular customers, some from Alabama, have threatened to sleep in the Conoco's parking lot so they can be first in line to buy a ticket on Feb. 10.

Steve Setser of Fayetteville, who glided into the station at the wheel of his 1955 Chevy Bel Air towing a sparkling 1941 Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a trailer behind it, said he expects the lines to be long at the Conoco. That's what he sees in Georgia, where he goes every week to check on a drive-in theater he owns near Chattanooga.

Setser said he usually gambles in the Georgia game, and has won smaller prizes.

"Nothing more than $40," he said.

Prizes up to $599 will be distributed by the stores that sell the tickets, Woodard said. Larger winnings will have to be collected at one of four regional offices.

Setser retrieved his ticket for the Georgia lottery from the dashboard of his car. He paid $1 for the piece of paper about the size of a gasoline receipt.

"It's the Mega-Millions - $17 million," Setser said, then noticed the date of the drawing. "December 16 - and that's my birthday. That would be ideal!"

But his ticket didn't win.

Huntsville Times

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