The V.I. Lottery is saying goodbye to an outdated and time-consuming ball pick drawing system and ushering in a “wave of opportunity” with its new digital draw system, which will make its debut in the territory on March 19.
Executive Director Raymond Williams said the new Origin RNG (random number generating) equipment is on-island and this week lottery staff will be trained, and the system will be installed.
“It is a marked improvement because the prior system was labor intensive, monotonous to say the least, and could take anywhere from two to four hours. With the new Origin draw system, that draw is literally going to happen in a matter of minutes,” Williams said.
The system will also allow for the publication of the picked numbers to be posted to various sites nearly instantaneously, and Williams said once contracts are in place the results will also be displayed through electronic billboards and news mediums.
“It will be an exciting day for the new draw system, especially when you consider we have used the old system for 80 plus years. We have been behind on the technology for a number of years, but now we are catching up,” Williams said.
The new system will also provide the V.I. Lottery opportunity to do additional games and Williams said the lottery has already been looking at new game opportunities to introduce to the public.
Other changes are also being discussed, he said, such as the possibility of weekly versus biweekly drawings.
“We have to make our games more competitive because our competition is killing us right now. Our greatest rival is Puerto Rico,” Williams said.
This is a unique problem, Williams said, because the interstate commerce laws forbid the sale or playing of games of chance outside of your territory. It is illegal for retailers to procure and sell Puerto Rico’s lottery tickets. But in the U.S. Virgin Islands it is not uncommon to find V.I. Lottery tickets sold side by side with the illegal tickets Williams added.
“We will be taking affirmative action against those dealers in the near future and we will also be taking action to stop the importation of those tickets. It is simply unfair for Puerto Rico to allow these tickets to be sold because it is illegal and now, we are tasked with the challenge of trying to stop it,” Williams said.
He added he has reached out to the Puerto Rico Lottery office and has not received any response.
Illegal ticket sales are one of the many factors facing the V.I. Lottery, which breaks even but turns no profit. The lottery liquidates 42 percent of its purchased tickets per pick, but Williams would like to see it jump to 60 percent.
Another factor that goes into Lottery’s inability to turn a profit is the cost of printing tickets, but Williams said Lottery is looking at the option to print them locally and in short order. He said this should reduce the price because there will be fewer security measures within the ticket that have to be put into place.
Though he mentioned printing on demand tickets as a possibility in the future, Williams said there are other pressing issues he would like to resolve before the Lottery can get to that point.
Because he classifies himself as a “tree hugger,” Williams said he would like to see the Lottery move in this direction as it will allow for the printing of tickets as needed, saving both paper and money.
Once the underlying budgetary issues are addressed Williams hopes the Lottery will start to turn a profit so it can introduce new products, such as sports betting.
Additional legislation could also help with the V.I. Lottery’s turnover, he said, suggesting lawmakers consider allowing to sell tickets at the age of 18 instead of the currently required 21.
“We are trying to encourage younger and more energetic people to get involved because we need to build our value, we need to build our number of dealers,” Williams said.
There are 400 to 500 ticket dealers in the territory, but Williams said he wants to encourage new people to become lottery dealers who have the creativity and potentially innovative strategies to sell tickets more rapidly.
The prospective dealer, or ticket retailer, must fill out an application, pay a $25 annual fee, submitting identification proving they are a U.S. citizen and filling out a police report. The dealer must sell at least 35 tickets a month and is given $7 per ticket sold, $10 a ticket during the special drawings that occur twice a year.
Unlike the mainland, where businesses rather than individuals sell tickets, Williams said the V.I. Lottery is a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs and the retired, who can create their own selling strategies. Williams said it is not unheard of to see dealers make more than $70,000 annually through ticket sales.
“I want the public to know that when you buy a ticket, everybody wins. It’s literally a fact because whether or not you win a prize, the funds generated through ticket sales are spread throughout the community. … In just our office we dole out something like $300,000 annually to initiatives that benefit the Department of Education, GERS, Veterans Affairs, Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs and others. So truly when you buy a ticket in the Virgin Islands, everyone wins and I invite the public to get aboard the wave of opportunity,” Williams said.