Lottery tickets go on sale in Tennessee in five days, and several merchants are concerned the Tennessee lottery board is doing too little to teach retailers how to use the ticket-generating equipment.
All lottery machinery has a "training mode," but retailers have gotten mixed messages on when they will be able to use these screens to teach their employees about the equipment.
Steve Edwards, owner of Countryside Market on U.S. Highway 411 South in Maryville, said he was told he wouldn't be able to access the training mode until Tuesday -- the day tickets go on sale.
"There's no way me or my employees will know how to properly sell these tickets, not properly," he said.
Tommy Hunt, president of Calloway Oil in Maryville, said he attended a training classes earlier this week and was told the training mode could only be activated by a service representative.
"It makes no sense," he said.
Kay Evans, owner of Bungalow Market on Middlesettlements Road, said a technician told her Tuesday someone would come in later to activate the training mode. Wednesday, she still could not use the training system.
"Why don't they send somebody around?" she asked.
The retailers have all attended training classes with their employees but feel it would be better to have access to continual, in-store training.
That way "we don't forget what we've learned," Hunt said. "I'd much rather we had the capability to train in-store."
Hunt again contacted lottery officials Thursday and was told that store owners and managers would never be able to activate the training mode. Training on the machines could only happen if a lottery representative were present.
Kym Gerlock, a spokesperson for the lottery, confirmed what Hunt heard. She said there had apparently been some miscommunication on the issue and said the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. was sorry for any confusion or inconvenience.
"A retailer cannot access the training mode of these terminals," she said. "Those screens are not supposed to work."
She did not elaborate on why this decision was made, but Hunt said he believed it was a matter of trust. He said he was told someone might print a sample ticket in training mode and try to pass it off as the real thing.
"Evidently they just don't trust us in that capacity," he said.
Gerlock defended the lottery's ability to train retailers and their employees.
"These machines are probably easier to use than most of the cash registers these retailers have," she said. The lottery ticket selling process is "designed to be as easy, fun and convenient as possible for everybody."
Gerlock said all stores have received illustrated reference cards explaining the system and can call the retailer hot line at any time.
"There are teams of people ready to talk them through any issues," she said. "I feel we're doing what we think is a good job at training retailers."
She also said GTech, which supplies the machines, is holding three-hour classes twice daily at six locations across the state. These training sessions are "hands-on" with merchants and employees using the actual machinery, she said.
Hunt attended one of these classes and said three employees from each of his E-Z Stop markets got time with the terminals. Other employees, however, had to watch.
He said the classes were very helpful but were not as beneficial as training all employees on-site would be. He asked for a training terminal to be installed in Calloway Oil's corporate office and was told lottery officials would "look into it."
So far, he's gotten no answer.
When tickets go on sale Tuesday, "everybody's going to be there and wanting to play, and they're going to expect us to know what we're doing," Hunt said.
He said Rebecca Paul, lottery commissioner, gets a bonus if she just gets the lottery up and running.
"She doesn't care about what kind of problems we have," he said.
Edwards, likewise, said, "This is a multimillion dollar problem and all (Paul) cares about is her bonus."
He said it is his understanding that if employees make any mistakes, retailers will have to pay for the errors.
"You have to eat it," he said.
Hunt said his employees would do their best to train and be prepared but asked customers to be patient on Tuesday.
"This will, in time, be a wonderful thing for anyone who wants to go college," Edwards said. "But this is not being started properly."