North Dakota's lottery debut was one for the record books.
Powerball lottery tickets went on sale at 390 sites around the state late Thursday morning. By 6:05 p.m., $119,453 worth of tickets had been sold - a Powerball record for per-capita spending on the game, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.
Vermont had $116,213 in one day's sales in July 2003, or 18.77 cents per person. North Dakota's 6:05 p.m. total represented 18.84 cents spent per person on the lottery, Stenehjem said.
Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot, who led the drive to change the North Dakota Constitution and make the lottery legal, said he was honored to buy the first ticket at a Fargo supermarket.
"I think this effort is really an example of what can be done when citizens are moved to action," Maragos said.
Some bought a lottery ticket as a birthday treat. Others just wanted to be among the first in the state.
Powerball players choose six two-digit numbers. They may pick their own numbers or have a computer choose for them. The Powerball game has Wednesday and Saturday night drawings, and the lottery, which is based in West Des Moines, Iowa, estimates the Saturday jackpot will be $25 million. The odds of winning it are one in 120 million.
North Dakota is the 25th state to join.
"It's a form of entertainment, so I would encourage people to exercise moderation," Stenehjem said. "Go ahead and spend a buck or two and dream about what you might do."
Gambling opponents, who unsuccessfully campaigned against a lottery initiative approved by voters in November 2002, were not celebrating.
"I'm very offended that the places we go to for our daily needs ... that they have gone into offering their customers these kinds of questionable purchases," former Gov. Arthur Link said. "It's a sad day for North Dakota."
Among the first group to buy a ticket in Fargo was Trudy Cruz, a school bus driver who lives in nearby Georgetown, Minn.
"I probably only play about three times a year, but I thought today would be a good day to buy a ticket," Cruz said. "It's about time that they brought it to North Dakota."
Dean Hornbacher, president of Hornbacher's Foods in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., said about 1,200 tickets were sold between 8:30 a.m., and noon at the Southgate store where Maragos bought the first ticket, including about 800 for a promotion.
"It has been steady all day, but we haven't been inundated," Hornbacher said Thursday afternoon. "We've had good training from the state, so it's all gone pretty smoothly. It's pretty easy since it's just one game."
Stenehjem said Chuck Keller, the state's lottery director, put in the equivalent of a year's worth of overtime to get the game started.
Keller's daughter, Sabrina Keller-Shell Track, bought a ticket Thursday to celebrate the lottery's beginning.
State rules bar immediate family members of lottery employees from buying tickets, if they are still living in the employee's home. However, Keller's daughter is married and not living at home, so she was not affected by the family rule.
"We're glad to have our dad back," she said. "He would go to work at 6 a.m. and he wouldn't come home until midnight, but he's so proud of this lottery.
"I think people are excited that this money is coming back to our state," she said.
For the first ticket, Maragos chose numbers representing his birthday, the year 2004 and the month that voters approved the lottery.
He donated his ticket to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. If it's a winner, the money should go to North Dakota's general fund, Maragos said.
In Bismarck, Victor Gustin, who was celebrating his 70th birthday, bought the city's first ticket.
Gustin chose his own numbers, splitting his birth year into two lottery numbers and including "the lucky number seven."
"I've never bought a ticket before," Gustin said. "I've played bingo once in a while at bingo parties, or something like that. That's all. It's the only (gambling) I've ever done. "There was never any (lottery tickets) around here, and I didn't go out of state that much."
Gustin's wife, Charlotte, had written a letter to Stenehjem, asking that her husband be given the distinction of buying the first Bismarck ticket. Stenehjem's wife, Beth Bakke Stenehjem, read part of the letter aloud during a ceremony to mark the lottery's debut.
"In my opinion, he's paid his dues. He's just a common man who deserves a treat, and a chance to buy a ticket on his birthday," Charlotte Gustin's letter read.
Al Kocis of Bismarck surveyed the crowd as he waited to make his $1 lottery wager.
"Nationally, (the lottery) is totally accepted," he said. "People in North Dakota want to be like the rest of the nation. They want to win big. You see $10 million jackpots, you know, they get all excited."