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Maine gears up for Powerball

Jul 26, 2004, 8:42 am

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Powerball

Powerball tickets go on sale in Maine on Friday

Barbara Lawrence works the pizza and sandwich counter at the Randolph Takeout, a convenience store with just about everything -- cold beer, graham cracker pie crusts, breath mints for the dog, blood worms and, yes, lottery tickets.

Lawrence and her customers have been talking for weeks about the next big item for sale -- Powerball lottery tickets.

"I've already told everybody that I'll be the first winner from Maine," said Lawrence, 57, who's worked at the store for more than three years.

In fact, Erwin Wales, of Bar Mills, won part of the third-largest jackpot in Powerball history when he bought tickets, along with two others from states where Powerball was offered, to win a $295 million payout in 2001.

Still, convenience store owners and lottery diehards are gearing up for the arrival of the multistate game, which goes on sale in Maine for the first time at noon Friday. The first drawing will be held the following day, with the jackpot winner guaranteed at least $10 million, the minimum Powerball payout.

The state expects to bring in about $9 million in revenue in the first year, money that most likely will be spent on education, said Commissioner Rebecca Wyke, head of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Wyke said Gov. John Baldacci, who opposed a new casino on tribal lands last year, reluctantly turned to Powerball this year when he realized there wasn't enough money to pay for education needs.

"He had seen the data which clearly showed Maine's lottery on the decline," she said.

The reason? Many Mainers drive to New Hampshire to play Powerball, leaving the state at a competitive disadvantage. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all participate in Tri-State Megabucks, a similar $1 game that will continue.

Until now, Maine was the only state of the three that didn't offer Powerball, Wyke said. As a result, those who took the time to cross state lines to buy a Powerball ticket probably also bought Megabucks tickets out of state, she said.

The buzz around quick-marts is all about Powerball, store owners and managers confirm. They're hoping while people come in to pick up a ticket, they'll see something else they just can't live without.

"I hope it's something to bring in a lot of new faces," said Louann Barnes, owner of the West Front Market in Skowhegan.

Barnes said she hopes customers will show up with a few bucks and come back with winning tickets.

"We just have to get all of the customers to get ready with all of their money," she said. "Then we can be the first store to sell a winning ticket in Maine."

Area stores haven't had to do much to get ready to sell tickets because all 982 outlets that sell Megabucks will also now automatically sell Powerball. State officials have spent months installing software and double-checking security measures so they can push a button to bring the stores online when the time comes, said Pamela Coutts, director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

The odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 120 million, a long shot to say the least. But players get Powerball crazy when the jackpot starts creeping up to the multimillions, she said.

"We'll have more winners to meet and greet," she said. "We always love to see the winners come through the door."

Maine will become the 29th jurisdiction to sell tickets, joining the Virgin Islands, District of Columbia and 26 states.

The state's substance-abuse office is in charge of providing gambling help for those who need it, and Coutts said they emphasize the need for players to be responsible when purchasing tickets.

Lou Boucher, owner of Lou's Beverage Barn in Augusta, said he hasn't done much to publicize the new game. Most people can already smell the money.

But that's soon to change.

Coutts said revenue from all of the state's 20-25 games, which includes scratch tickets and Lotto drawings, goes to the General Fund. She expects that sales of Megabucks tickets will drop off, but that many people are loyal to the tristate game that started in 1985.

For her part, Lawrence can't imagine what it would be like to hit it big. She thinks $2 million would be plenty. Forget the $100 million jackpots.

"You'd have to give so much of it away," she said. "My God, what would you do with it? I'd like to find out."

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