Coconuts

Machines like this one in Coconuts have started popping up across Starkville in anticipation of the start of scratch-off lottery tickets on Nov. 25.

The month of November will see a first for the city of Starkville and the entire state of Mississippi as a lottery will be available for residents and visitors to participate in.

Starting Nov. 25, approved retailers will begin selling scratch-off tickets in four varieties.

Meg Annison, director of communications for the Mississippi Lottery Corporation, said there will be one $1 game, two $2 games and one $5 game by the end of the month.

"Those will all have different payouts," Annison said. "In January, we'll introduce Powerball and Mega Millions."

Powerball and Mega Millions are drawing-style games, in contrast to the scratch-off ticket games that will available by the end of November. Another difference is that the drawing games are national, and jackpots for both have reached more than $1 billion in the past.

The national drawing games will be available Jan. 30. Each variant will have two drawings per week, with Powerball drawing on Wednesdays and Saturdays and Mega Millions drawing on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Since its creation last year as a result of the legislation approving a lottery, the MLC has been working to put all the appropriate pieces in place for the state's lottery to begin. Starting in August, retailers could apply to become approved for lottery sales.

Annison said the only retail group that was outright unable to sell lottery tickets was liquor stores, due to lottery items not being named in the explicit state law defining what can be sold in liquor stores.

Aside from that group, Annison said any other retailer could be approved if it passed a background check, was cleared by the Mississippi Department of Revenue and was a business selling goods other than the lottery.

"Almost nobody is outright prohibited," Annison said. "Except you can not just sell lottery games."

In preparation for the Nov. 25 starting date, the MLC's chosen gaming vendor, IGT Global Solutions, began installing lottery machines during the second half of October. IGT also offered training workshops for employees from approved retailers to learn how to operate the machines.

Local business owner Curt Crissey said he already had several businesses approved to sell lottery tickets, including Brewski's on Highway 12 and Coconuts on University Drive.

The machines had been installed and his employees had attended the two and a half hour long training workshops, Crissey said.

"We went through training last month," Crissey said. "It's all pretty automated, once you get your store set up and rolling."

While employees learned the mechanics of the lottery machines, they are not yet activated and will not be until the week of Nov. 25.

Crissey said he was glad to be participating in the lottery as a retailer but did foresee some potential issues arising from the new industry.

"It's not necessarily a win-win situation," Crissey said. "It can cause some problems within the store."

Customers not interested in the lottery, Cirssey said, might experience longer lines or a higher volume of people in the store in general.

Cirssey also said the money lottery tickets would bring in would almost certainly be negligible.

According to the MLC's policy, retailers receive a 6% commission on lottery tickets, but Crissey said the actual number will be much lower.

"If you come in a buy a ticket with cash, that's 6%," Crissey said. "If you swipe a credit card, it's down to 3%, depending on the credit card."

Credit card processing fees, Crissey said, will split the commission on lottery tickets. He added the hit to the retailer's profits was so stiff that he was considering making lottery tickets a "cash only" item in his stores.

Despite this problem, Crissey praised the way the MLC was handling the implementation of the lottery by allowing retailers to have a hands-off policy.

Crissey said any problems with a ticket, such as if a customer scratched too vigorously and accidentally scratched off their potentially winning numbers, were out of the retailers' hands.

By taking responsibility for the tickets and the machines potential issues, Crissey said the MLC was making the right decision to protect retailers.

Crissey also noted the decision to cap what retailers had to pay out to winners was a good one because it would keep retailers from temporarily being out of cash after a large pay out.

"A retailer can only pay out $599.99 at the most," Crissey said.

Anyone who wins more than that number will have to go through the MLC to collect their winnings, a move Crissey supported.

Other retailers approved for lottery ticket sales in Starkville include the Westside Market, Mac's Meat Market and several gas stations, most notably Sprint Marts, which currently have nine approved locations in the city.

Customers wishing to buy lottery tickets after Nov. 25 must be 21 years old.

The lottery was brought into existence during the 2018 special session of Mississippi lawmakers. Annual proceeds from the lottery will fund infrastructure improvements through the State Highway Fund until the $80 million mark, after which any additional funds will go to the Education Enhancement Fund.

This arrangement will last until July 1, 2028, and then proceeds will enter the State General Fund. Proceeds over $80 million will continue to go toward education improvements for the state.

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