Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lottery offers $20,000 bonanza for ticket vendors

ALEX DEMARBANalex@alaskanewspapers.com
January 08, 2009 at 2:05PM AKST
The lucky person who wins the state’s first $500,000 lottery on Jan. 9 may not be the only one in the money.
The organization or person that sells the winning ticket could pocket $20,000.
Ticket vendors in some 30 Alaska communities — including restaurants, pull-tab parlors and big-city strip joints — had a choice. They could earn $1 for every ticket they sold, or take a shot at winning their own mini-bonanza, an option several vendors have chosen, according to organizer Abe Spicola.
The dog mushing association in Kotzebue is aiming for the vendors’ prize, said manager Leanne Viveiros. It sold about 1,700 tickets in less than a month, so it will miss out on about $1,700.
But it could take home thousands more if the winning ticket came out of its pull-tab parlor, she said. The money would probably be used to help boost purses in the weekly sled dog races the group sponsors, including its flagship contest, the Kobuk 440.
“It will be a good, extra boost for the club with our upcoming dog races,” Viveiros said.
Ticket sales have sizzled throughout Alaska, including in rural communities.
Out there, the gaming tradition is strong because tribal governments, cities and nonprofit groups use earnings from pull-tab sales and bingo nights to help pay for community services, said Joseph Koss, a tax auditor for the state’s gaming division.
The revenue helps village governments pay police or other employees, power and heat buildings or help needy families buy stove oil, funeral services or medical flights to city hospitals, he said.
“In some cases it can provide almost the entire revenue for a governmental agency (in a village),” he said.
Spicola, the lottery organizer, said he wanted to make sure rural Alaska residents were included in the lottery because of their strong interest in gaming. He also thought it important to give people across the state a chance to win.
“You should have a right to participate in the state lottery if you live in the Bush,” said Spicola, owner of Lucky Times Pull Tab in Anchorage.
Any person or organization approved by Spicola could be a ticket vendor — a woman from the village of Kivalina in Northwest Alaska sold tickets there — but only a nonprofit or municipality can obtain a state gaming permit.
Hopeful players have scooped up tickets in Dillingham, said Tammy Conahan, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber was one of two outlets selling the tickets in the Southwest Alaska community of 2,400. The chamber only had two weeks to sell, but buyers gobbled up about 1,000 tickets at $5 apiece, she said.
“It took a while for word of mouth to get out, but once it did, it was just huge,” she said. “People were very excited that we finally got something like it.”
The tickets were popular Christmas items, with people buying them as stocking stuffers, she said.
“This is really neat what it’s meant to the whole state,” she said. “The revenue for all the nonprofits, it’s just another avenue for these groups to (raise money) and do things.”
The Dillingham chamber runs the pull-tab parlor to raise money for community events, fund beautification projects like street banners and help pay for advertising to lure tourists, she said.
The civic group skipped the chance for the $20,000 vendors’ prize and decided to earn money for every ticket it sold. It will take home about $1,000, she said.
The money will help pay for the 50th annual Beaver Round-up festival, a March event designed to shake off cabin fever. It stems from area trappers who once convened in Dillingham each spring to see who skinned the biggest beaver, she said.
Conahan said she bought one ticket each for her sister and his husband. They bought her a ticket in return, so she’ll be watching the big drawing closely.
That’s set for Friday night, 7 p.m. at Rum Runners Old Towne Bar in Anchorage, where a “secret, local celebrity” will draw the winning stub out of a huge, custom-made tumbler, Spicola said.
Officials with Channel 2 News in Anchorage have said they will broadcast the drawing live or announce the winner on late-night news, Spicola said.
There could be at least one other winner this year.
To offer the lottery, Spicola teamed up with Standing Together Against Rape, a statewide group providing support to victims of sexual violence. STAR, which has a gaming license, gets 20 percent of the net profit.
Spicola and STAR officials hadn’t expected to make any money in the lottery’s first year, he said.
But sales have been so strong they just might, said Spicola.
“That would be very cool, wouldn’t it?” said Nancy Haag, STAR’s executive director, adding that the money would help pay for community education about sexual violence.
And how about the irony of allowing bars, liquor stores and even strip joints — such as the Crazy Horse in Anchorage — to sell tickets? After all, those places sell the booze that often accompanies sexual violence.
They’re actually great places to educate people about the group, Spicola said.
The tickets show STAR’s name, and organizers have informed the vendors about STAR’s mission so the message can be passed on to ticket buyers.
“It’s good for everyone,” he said. “The bar owners appreciate it. They know there’s help out there if a patron is victimized. STAR is happy because they’re educating people.”
And the contestants know they’re supporting a good cause, he said.
Alex DeMarban can be reached at 907-348-2444 or 800-770-9830, ext. 444.
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