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N.D. Lottery director discusses new game possibilities

Feb 28, 2006, 8:13 am

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Mega Millions / Powerball

Possible joint venture between Mega Millions and Powerball could produce massive new game

North Dakota's four lottery games have been more profitable than expected, and the state's gambling market could handle another two games before it is saturated, lottery director Chuck Keller believes.

Some North Dakotans, who believed Powerball would be the only game introduced by voters' approval of a November 2002 lottery initiative, are wondering when the steady introduction of new gambling varieties will end, a state lawmaker says.

"The question I'm raising, and that others are raising to me ... is, 'Is this really what we bargained for?'" said Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo. "At least some folks in our state, and some legislators, are saying, 'You know, we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.' So when is enough enough?"

Koppelman is a member of the Legislature's interim Judicial Process Committee, which was briefed on the lottery's finances Monday.

The North Dakota Lottery has forecast $38.5 million in sales for the state's two-year budget period, and demand has been strong enough so far to meet that projection, Keller said. North Dakota's treasury expects to collect $10 million during the biennium, which began July 1, 2005, and ends June 30, 2007.

Keller compared the lottery's financial benefits to those of other state businesses, such as the Bank of North Dakota and the state Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks.

"I don't think we should be ashamed of the North Dakota Lottery. It is a very highly visible, very growth-oriented industry," Keller said. "As the director for the lottery, I don't think I would have a long-term tenure ... if I did not intend to promote sales of lottery tickets."

Since Powerball's introduction in March 2004, the North Dakota Lottery has rolled out three other multistate games administered by the Multistate Lottery Association, an organization based in Urbandale, Iowa.

The games are called Hot Lotto, Wild Card 2 and 2 by 2. They each have different jackpot sizes and odds, and are played in different groups of states.

The 2 by 2 game, which made its North Dakota debut on Feb. 2, has already racked up almost $500,000 in ticket sales, Keller said. Using sales data from Kansas and Nebraska, the other two states where 2 by 2 is played, Keller had estimated the game would sell $950,000 worth of tickets over 12 months.

Although the Multistate Lottery Association only has four multistate games at present, it is continually researching and developing new ones, Keller said. He expects North Dakota to explore offering any new games developed by the MUSL, he said.

Keller said there have been informal talks among officials for MUSL and Mega Millions, a lottery organization that runs its game in 12 states, for a joint game. Powerball is played in 28 states.

He is not sure whether a cooperative game will be established, Keller said, but if one is, it would be bigger than Powerball, he said. The game has a minimum jackpot of $15 million. A group of Nebraska meatpacking plant workers recently won a record Powerball prize of $365 million.

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