May 31, 2006, 9:51 am
Computer glitches and printer problems hit 20% of vendors
North Carolinians played Powerball to the tune of more than $1 million during the first day of sales Tuesday, despite computer glitches and printer problems that plagued nearly 20 percent of the state's lottery retailers.
Many ticket buyers and sellers in the Charlotte area were upbeat, even though some stores could not sell tickets for the multi-state lottery game for several hours.
The new game paid off in sales for Victor Madhiwala, the store manager at the Express Stop II on Gibbons Road in northeast Charlotte. He said he experienced some computer-related slowdowns during the morning hours, but he'd sold "hundreds" of Powerball tickets by 10 a.m. Tuesday.
In the neighborhood
Many of his customers used to go to South Carolina to get Powerball tickets, he said."People are excited ... You can get it in your own neighborhood," said Madhiwala.
The problems also didn't dampen the spirit of lottery officials, who took off in a hot-air balloon Tuesday afternoon as a symbol that the multi-million dollar prize game is "taking flight in the state."
Lottery director Tom Shaheen said the daily sales figure could reach $1.5 million today, since North Carolina will be part of a $38 million jackpot drawing tonight.
"We're anticipating it will go smooth from here on in," said Shaheen, noting the sales far outpace the $2 million to $4 million in sales he predicted for the first week. "It's been a great day and we're happy."
North Carolina's lottery has sold scratch-off lottery tickets for instant prizes for two months. Powerball gives most state residents their first chance to play a game with a multi-million dollar prize without driving to South Carolina, Virginia or Tennessee.
Powerball is played in 28 other states and jackpots start at $15 million. If there's no winner, the jackpot grows. It reached a record $365 million earlier this year.
Despite months of planning Powerball's N.C. launch, about 1,300 lottery retailers weren't able to start selling tickets when the game launched at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
The lottery's contractor, GTECH Corp., sent software to computer terminals at the state's 5,700 lottery retailers overnight so the stores could start selling tickets at launch time.
About 800 retailers had turned off their computers, which meant those stores didn't get the new software in time, said lottery director Tom Shaheen.
Once the machines were switched on, it took hours for the software to download, Shaheen said.
"I liken it to being in a traffic jam," Shaheen said.
Another 500 retailers had printer problems, which prevented them from printing the Powerball tickets, Shaheen said. GTECH officials were telling those stores to hit a reset button on their printers.
More than 5,400 of the 5,700 machines were working by 5 p.m., Shaheen said.
The computer problems meant the staff at the Kangaroo Express on North Main Street in Mooresville couldn't start selling tickets until 8 a.m.
Selling Powerball tickets is also more complex than dealing with the scratch-off tickers retailers started selling two months ago. Players can either fill in numbers of their own on the paper ticket, or have dealers ask for a computer-picked set of numbers called a "quick pick."
"It can be a headache, but we're getting used to it as more people come in," said store manager Dawn Illiano, noting that she and other employees would "get the feel as you go along.
"This little parking lot, when people do start to realize (Powerball has started), you won't be able to move," she said.
Kamlesh Patel, manager of a Quick RC Shop in Gastonia, had some of the early-morning printer problems. He got his machine running around 10 a.m.
He said some training given to lottery retailers about Powerball tickets "went too fast and wasn't organized." But he said the new game might help make up for a drop-off in sales of scratch-off tickers over the last month.
Shaheen said retailers are inadvertently responsible for the delay because they turned off the lottery terminals, but the lottery can collect damages from GTECH if officials learn the software problem was the company's fault.
Problems in the Southeast
At Roy's Bait & Tackle on U.S. 421 North early Tuesday, clerks had no problems helping customers get their morning coffee, fuel and minnows. They just couldn't sell a lottery ticket.
"One lady filled her slip out but is going to bring it back," said clerk Linda McCormick. "It's too bad."
About 11 a.m. at Rose Ice & Coal Co. on Market Street, the machine wasn't working and Dorothy Joe was reading a how-to pamphlet.
"I feel like I've already won," she said, posing for a newspaper photo.
She was going to take home some playslips, when store owner Archie Harris pushed a small blue reset button under the lottery machine's receipt printer. The machine came to life.
"I guess we're in business," Harris said.
One problem, according to the N.C. Education Lottery, is that some retailers might have turned off their machines Monday night, meaning that Powerball software didn't load overnight. Others were likely not aware that they had to push that blue button.
There was no computer communication with 800 stores on Tuesday morning, said lottery spokeswoman Pam Walker. Some 500 locations had the printer problem, she said. Some stores might have had both problems, she said, and its unclear whether all of them were open Tuesday morning. Some locations, housed in taverns and night clubs, open later in the day.
Stores without technological hassles had a banner day Tuesday.
At Farm Fresh Market, a combination grocery, electronics store and neighborhood gathering spot on Carolina Beach Road, the men behind the counter were smiling.
"We've done a good business today," said co-owner Sam Rayan. "We'll do even better if we get a winner here. If we got a big winner here, they'd know the name Farm Fresh Market across the country."
The first Powerball drawing involving North Carolina's lottery will take place at 10:59 p.m. today. The winning numbers are published minutes after the drawing at USA Mega (http://www.usamega.com/), an Internet web site devoted to the Powerball and Mega Millions multi-state games.
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