News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 14, 2014

MARK BENNETT: Hoosier Lottery going strong at 25

TERRE HAUTE — Now it was my turn.

There I was, standing at the front of the convenience store checkout line, buying a lottery ticket. Customers behind me probably muttered under their breath, “Why doesn’t he just hand me his money, I’ll get some Snickers bars, and he’ll save himself a lot of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking?” For 25 years, I’ve been that skeptic.

On Wednesday afternoon, I experienced a role reversal. That’s when I bought my first Hoosier Lottery ticket … ever.

Purely for research related to this column, of course.

The state gaming operation marks its 25th anniversary this year. As part of an ongoing celebration, Hoosier Lottery officials have briefly revived its former “Hoosier Millionaire” television game show — complete with its original cast of Mark Patrick, Tony Lamont and Barbara Hobbs. They’re staging six live shows across the state, including one tonight at 7 o’clock in Hulman Center. Six contestants will compete for a spot in the Hoosier Millionaire 25th Anniversary Championship Show at the Indiana State Fair in August. Five contestants have already been selected by submitting their non-winning Hoosier Millionaire tickets into an online pool. The sixth contestant, according to lottery officials, will be chosen minutes before tonight’s show. To try for that sixth contestant role, audience members must bring their non-winning Hoosier Lottery tickets to Hulman Center and submit them before 6:15. Doors open at 5, and admission is free.

Exciting stuff.

In the spirit of the moment, I gave the lottery a low-level, one-time try.

I entered the convenience store, analyzed a lottery vending machine, and instead turned to a familiar clerk behind the counter for assistance.

 I’d decided to play the Hoosier Lotto — one of the lottery’s nine “draw” games and Indiana’s first. In a nutshell, players pick six numbers between 1 and 48, and hope they match those drawn. I came prepared with my six scientifically chosen numbers. I based those picks, of course, on the ages of my wife and kids, and (because my age now exceeds 48) the equally sound, logical choices of numbers associated with my high school baseball jersey (12) and bat (a Jackie Robinson 34). The clerk took my dollar, entered my numbers into the computer, handed me a printed ticket and wished me “beginner’s luck.”

I would need it. My odds of matching all six numbers for the $1-million jackpot were 12,271,512 to 1.

I left the store and was not struck by lightning, probably a reminder of my remote chances of winning.

My detachment from the lottery boils down to that perception. I see the long odds and don’t play. Others see the potential winnings and play.

Sarah Taylor understands both outlooks. She oversees the Hoosier Lottery as its executive director, after being appointed to that post in September by Gov. Mike Pence. She formerly worked in Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration, served as Marion County clerk for eight years and admittedly wasn’t a frequent player of the lottery. Yet, Taylor sees crucial value in the funds generated by the Hoosier Lottery since its inception in 1989. Its proceeds go primarily to lottery winners, but also to police and firefighter pensions, teacher retirement funds, the Build Indiana Fund (involving infrastructure and local improvement projects), as well as commissions to lottery retailers and payments to vendors. Lottery revenue also reduces vehicle excise taxes by half, she emphasized.

“It’s billions of dollars that would not have gone to the state of Indiana and the causes prescribed by the Indiana General Assembly,” Taylor said by telephone Wednesday. Of each dollar generated, 94 cents stays within the state, she said.

In Vigo County alone, more than $1 million in lottery funds went to teacher retirement funds and police and firefighter pensions in 2012, according to lottery statistics. Statewide in 2012, the lottery sent $30 million into both teacher retirements and police-firefighter pensions.

The variety of games involve draws (such as the Hoosier Lotto) and scratch-offs (such as the Hoosier Millionaire, which attracted 8 million-plus buyers in 24 hours after its debut in 1989). Reviving the Hoosier Millionaire and the TV game show of the same name seemed like a natural fit for the 25th anniversary, Taylor said. The TV show ended its 16-year run in 2005. Lottery officials reunited the cast for this year’s six live shows across Indiana, but Taylor said no future plans exist for the show to return on a regular basis.

“It can be expensive to do on a weekly basis,” she said. “It’s not something I would ever totally shut the door to, because Hoosiers love game shows.”

The chemistry between Patrick, Lamont and Hobbs remains intact. “They were ready and willing and have not missed a beat,” Taylor said. The trio distinctly remembers all the unexpected, wild, funny occurrences on past live shows. “They actually have a soft spot in their heart for the ‘Hoosier Millionaire’ show,” Taylor said. It represented a slice of Indiana culture. Taylor has gotten reminders of that attachment during the show’s other stops around the state this year.

“Everywhere I go, I hear people saying, ‘I used to sit down with my grandparents every Saturday night and watch the show,’” Taylor said.

No doubt, they were glancing at their lottery tickets, too. And, yes, I’ll do the same with mine this week.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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