North Carolina's 6,100 lottery retailers will now get more than publicity when someone wins a big jackpot at their stores _ they'll get cash, too.
The North Carolina Education Lottery Commission voted Wednesday on giving retail outlets bonuses of up to $50,000 when they sell the top winning tickets for a pair of twice-weekly multistate numbers games, including Powerball and the Mega Millions game that may start late next month.
A sold jackpot ticket for the nightly Carolina Cash 5 could earn a retailer $10,000.
Lottery executive director Tom Shaheen said he hopes the incentives will encourage retailers to be more assertive in highlighting the lottery in their stores and suggest that customers consider a premium ticket, such as buying a $2 multistate ticket instead of the regular $1 ticket, which boosts potential prizes.
"That helps increase our sales, which in turn helps increase our return to education," Shaheen said.
Retailers have received a 7 percent commission on tickets they sell since the lottery began in March 2006. The original 2005 lottery law didn't permit incentives, although lotteries in surrounding states offered bonuses to their retailers. The General Assembly tweaked the law this year to open the door to the incentives, which may begin as early as January.
Unlike sales of soda pop or snacks, convenience store owners often have to go the extra step to explain how lottery games work for customers, Shaheen said.
"They are the front-line faces of the lottery," he said. "They want something for selling a winning ticket because all of the excitement focuses on the player that's won."
The lottery commission set aside $395,000 to pay the incentives through the end of June, based on past jackpot history.
The commission Wednesday also upgraded its projections for ticket sales and payments to four education initiatives this fiscal year based on better than expected ticket sales through October.
The lottery had told legislators months ago it expected to generate $368 million for education by next summer, based on ticket sales of $1.23 billion.
But sales are already 15 percent higher _ or $67 million _ so far compared to last year, leading the commission to raise projections to $1.37 billion in sales and net education proceeds to $419 million for the year. The change is only slightly above the $411 million generated for education last year.
Shaheen said earlier projections were conservative based on the uncertainty of the economy. He attributes higher ticket sales to the popularity of the lottery's first $20 scratch-off game and marketing campaigns such as those involving pro wrestler Ric Flair and prizes of Ford Mustangs.
The commission on Wednesday also agreed to seek a new advertising agency after a High Point-based ad firm offered a deal that lottery officials say would save the lottery $360,000 over the next three years.
An evaluation committee had recommended Shaheen work out a deal with Trone Inc., which was chosen over a joint proposal by two firms. The decision means the Wray Ward agency of Charlotte, which has had the lottery deal since 2006, will be off the job at the end of February.
The North Carolina lottery is limited in spending no more than 1 percent of total revenues on advertising. The primary purpose of the ads can't be to induce people to play the games and they can't depict the lottery as a way to resolve economic or personal problems.