Nov. 12, 2002 – Gamblers in the territory could have a chance as early as Saturday to try their luck in the mammoth lottery game Powerball — which pools the bets of players in 21 states and the District of Columbia toward jackpots as big as $295 million.
The V.I. Lottery's executive director, Austin Andrews, said on Tuesday at a public hearing on the game on St. Croix that he is "99.9 percent sure" the Multi-State Lottery Association, or MUSL, which oversees Powerball, will approve the territory's participation on Wednesday.
"With Powerball coming on board, that will be what it will take to get out lottery moving forward," Andrews said. "We will realize serious revenues from Powerball sales."
No lottery representative would hazard a guess as to how serious those revenues are anticipated to be. "No on can really say, because no one really knows," Todd Washington, general manager of Caribbean Lottery Services, said. Under contract with the V.I. government, Caribbean Lottery has been operating computerized regional lottery games in the territory since mid-February. But rough sales estimates are in the area of $5.5 million gross, Andrews said.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull met with the governing board of Leeward Islands Lottery Holding Co., the parent company of Caribbean Lottery Services, last spring to discuss his desire to bring Powerball to the territory.
"We are very excited about the potential for significant amounts of revenue being generated from this decision," Turnbull said then. "The addition of Powerball to the games offered by the lottery could result in a substantial increase in revenues."
LILHC's vice president for marketing and sales, Eugene Boykins, told the Source in April that the territory could realize millions of dollars from Powerball sales, with Caribbean Lottery Services paying the government a minimum of 12.5 percent of gross revenues.
Turnbull said then that Powerball would help the struggling V.I. Lottery become solvent and a contributor to the General Fund, as it is intended to be.
After several years in the red, "the local lottery needs help," Andrews said. "The rollover presently in existence is killing the V.I. Lottery," he said, referring to the jackpot that grows with each drawing that yields no winning ticket.
The V.I. Lottery owes the General Fund almost $3 million. It is intended to fund several government agencies and initiatives: the Education Department, Office of Veterans Affairs, Disable Persons Fund, Small Business Development and Loan Fund, and the Summer Youth Employment Program.
Caribbean Lottery Services pays the government 10 percent of its gross revenues, but Washington could not provide information as to how much the company has earned since it started operations in the territory.
Even though the purpose of CLS is to bail out the V.I. Lottery, the contract caused an uproar last spring among the approximately 575 vendors of traditional paper lottery tickets throughout the territory.
Turnbull said in April that he understood the vendors' concerns but that bringing Powerball to the territory might help them, too. "They're going to realize, as some have already, that this will put them in the mainstream," he said.
One vendor, Madre James, was present at Tuesday's hearing with fiery comments about the changes. "Soon from now these people," she said, referring to Caribbean Lottery Services, "are going to [take over] the V.I. Lottery." She said sales of paper lottery tickets are down since the computerized games hit the islands.
Washington pointed out that V.I. Lottery vendors are not excluded from selling Caribbean Lottery's products — including Powerball tickets — by signing a contract to sell the tickets on consignment.
"Any V.I. Lottery dealer who wants to sell our product is entitled to do so," Washington said. He added that the contracting of government-run lotteries to private businesses is not uncommon on the U.S. mainland.
Wayne Dolezal, director of business and legal affairs for the Multi-State Lottery Association, agreed. "All lotteries hire private contractors to do at least some aspect of their lottery functions," he said.
The revenues realized vary from state to state, Dolezal said. South Dakota has 750,000 residents and Powerball sales of $11 million a year, he said. Generally speaking, about 25 to 30 percent of gross sales "end up as revenue to the jurisdiction," he said, but the small population of the Virgin Islands could reduce that percentage because of operating costs spread over three islands.
Assuming Powerball is on its way, Virgin Islanders and any of the territory's two million annual visitors will be able to purchase tickets from mobile agents and in any of Caribbean Lottery's 110 locations outfitted with the technology to print the tickets, such as gas stations, grocery stores and the company's offices.
The Wednesday Powerball jackpot is $29 million.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.