Their lucky day? Giant lottery jackpot sparks interest in person and online


For the casual player, the line that wrapped around Carlton’s Tanglewood Wednesday seemed like a deterrent.

The multi-state Powerball draw jackpot had reached a staggering $1.2 billion – it would top $1.5 billion by Friday – and Carlton’s, one of North Carolina’s top five lottery retailers , was about to capitalize.

Extra clerks worked extra shifts to sell tickets at an otherworldly pace.

“We had two lines up at the back of the store Wednesday night and cars lined up in the parking lot,” said store manager Megan Messick.

Diehards and determined dreamers would buy tickets, line or no line. But the spontaneous and the casual, those who wouldn’t shell out without a galactic chance of generational wealth, might have been deterred.

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A customer’s Powerball ticket is at the Carlton’s counter.

Allison Lee Isley Diary

But unbeknownst to many players, a workaround was in the palm of their hands: a smartphone app operated by the North Carolina Education Lottery available for instant download.

Whether it’s keeping up with the times or another step in the inexorable march to Gomorrah lies in the eyes of the ticket viewer.

Lottery at Carlton's

Phyllis Dunnaville (left) and Edwina Stewart fill in their slips for Friday’s Powerball at Carlton’s Tanglewood in Clemmons. “This [Carlton’s] is the lucky point here,” Stewart said, “I don’t buy them anywhere but here.

Allison Lee Isley Diary

Changing rules

In the months leading up to the 2005 vote that finally allowed North Carolina to claw back some of the millions in lottery revenue absorbed by neighboring states, critics warned that a day could come when the surge in sales (and increased revenue) could outpace everything else.

Opponents and skeptics in the Legislative Assembly tried without much success to limit the lottery in terms of how much was spent promoting it, where (and how) tickets could be sold, and profits could be spent.

And to no one’s surprise, tough spending rules have turned into mere guidelines easily ignored by lawmakers.

Most glaring came from the way the money is allocated. For example, the original law specified that 35% of revenue “shall” be spent on building schools, reducing class sizes and scholarships.

In 2007, however, the General Assembly quietly changed this to read 35% “as far as possible”.

In 2013, the allocation fell to 28%; in 2021, it hovered around 26%.

Of course, sales also increased. The truth of the matter, whether lawmakers consciously cut spending on K-12 education with the influx of lottery revenue, is open to debate, interpretation, and hair-sharing.

We know the governor at the time. Bev Perdue — ironically, the deciding vote to pass the lottery in the state Senate in 2005 when she was lieutenant governor — diverted $50 million of lottery proceeds during the recession to the general fund, a decision that highlighted the new “guidelines.”

None of this came as a surprise at Carlton’s on Friday afternoon. “They were always going to do what they wanted to do,” said one player as she picked her numbers.

The issue of the day was the mind-boggling jackpot that grew with every ticket purchased, regardless of the method of sale.

Lottery at Carlton's

Customers line up to buy Powerball and other lottery tickets Friday at Carlton’s in Clemmons.

Allison Lee Isley PHOTOS, Diary

‘Personal touch’

So far, at least at Carlton’s, the emergence of technological means of purchasing lottery tickets has not been a major cause for concern.

“Not really,” Messick said. “People would prefer the personal touch and someone explaining (how to play) to them.”

Friday noon steady line and revenue recorded in Raleigh confirms this. “We’re the second-largest retailer in the state,” she said.

Indeed, Carlton’s Tanglewood sold $5.2 million in lottery tickets last year, trailing only Calabash Food & Fuel – a gross-sounding combination – in Brunswick County, which recorded nearly 6, $7 million.

Lottery at Carlton's

Phyllis Dunnaville fills out her form for Powerball on Friday.

Allison Lee Isley Diary

(Fairway One Stop No. 21 on Elm-Eugene Street in Greensboro was fourth with $4.15 million in sales.)

Still, online and app sales represent an opportunity for growth.

The NC Education Lottery began allowing online purchases in 2013 through its website for certain games and launched the mobile app in March 2015.

(Who knew? Not me. But then again, I always use a paper calendar and wear a wristwatch.)

“Consumers expect this (online options) and take advantage of the convenience apps can provide,” wrote Van Denton, the lottery’s communications director.

So far, 415,000 downloads of the lottery app via Apple and another 53,000 of the Android version have been recorded by lottery officials.

Since July 1, Denton wrote, some $23.5 million in online sales for four games that draw numbers have come through phone apps.

With annual sales in the state exceeding $3.8 billion, that’s just a spat in the fiscal ocean.

Boosting sales by any method – and with that a chance of avoiding the big silly jackpot queues – depends on the people who run the NC Education Lottery.

Determining how to spend it — or changing laws to meet political rather than educational needs — is up to governors to propose the budgets and legislators to carve them out.




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