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Powerball means lucky times for lottery messenger services

With California now offering Powerball, the online order takers are enjoying a jump in traffic.

April 09, 2013|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Rafael Moreno picks Powerball numbers Monday as others form a line at Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne. California is the latest state to participate in Powerball.
Rafael Moreno picks Powerball numbers Monday as others form a line at Bluebird… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Gamblers aren't the only ones pumped up by Powerball's California debut.

Since Monday, when Powerball tickets went on sale in California for the first time, mini-marts, liquor stores and gas stations have been flooded with jackpot hopefuls. And websites that provide tips on picking numbers and list "lucky" retailers have seen a sharp jump in clicks.

The long lines at the state's 21,000 authorized retailers are also renewing interest among lottery aficionados in bringing ticket sales to the Web. But with no such plan in sight, online services including LottoGopher are swooping in to take advantage of consumers' desire for a more convenient way to play.

LottoGopher, based in West Hollywood, is one of a handful of websites that operate as lottery messenger services. The company offers a monthly membership, starting at about $10, that enables California residents to order lottery tickets online and join ticket-pooling groups to better their chances of winning.

Founded in 2010, the site had already sold Mega Millions and SuperLotto Plus tickets. But members regularly lamented the absence of Powerball and its typically higher jackpots, said James Morel, chief executive of LottoGopher. Now that the game has been added in California, the company expects a windfall of new business.

"This is it for us. Powerball is the holy grail of lotteries," Morel said.

Within the first two days of Powerball sales, total ticket orders on LottoGopher were 45% higher than usual, he said. He declined to say how many members the company has but said it sold hundreds of thousands of tickets last year.

Such services, which include TheLotter and WinTrillions, offer a solution for gamblers wanting to buy tickets online. Many players said the convenience of being able to place orders from their computers instead of driving to a store and waiting in line has increased how often they play.

Before discovering LottoGopher, Bob Woodruff, 61, bought a lotto ticket "maybe once every five months." Now he orders 26 $1 MegaMillions and SuperLotto Plus tickets on the site every week, and has budgeted an extra $10 to spend weekly on Powerball tickets, which sell for $2 each.

"It's made it so much easier. I'm in it big time," said the retail merchandiser from Homeland, Calif. "I'm surprised that there aren't more opportunities for lotteries online."

But efforts to bring lottery sales officially online in California have stalled since state lottery officials said in late 2011 that they would begin exploring the idea. Internet sales of lottery tickets are prohibited in nearly every state; last year, Illinois became the first state to sell individual lottery tickets online. About two dozen other states have expressed interest in following suit.

"We've been sitting back and waiting to see what the state decides to do as far as online gaming is concerned before we pursue anything," Alex Traverso, a spokesman with the California Lottery, said Tuesday. "It's not something we're pursuing at this time."

Traverso said the third-party sites aren't endorsed by the state, and he encouraged players to buy their tickets from authorized sellers.

LottoGopher, meanwhile, is planning to expand to other states and is working on an app. The company launched an advertising blitz Monday that includes banner ads, emails and affiliate programs to attract customers.

Members place orders for lottery tickets on LottoGopher, which sends a messenger to buy the tickets from a retailer. The company keeps the tickets and collects any winnings on the buyer's behalf; winnings are then deposited into the customer's account. Morel said the company doesn't take a cut of any winnings.

Wednesday marks the first Powerball drawing that California will participate in. The jackpot is estimated to be $60 million.

Drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday night, with a minimum jackpot of $40 million. Only seven states — Utah, Nevada, Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi and Wyoming — don't participate in Powerball.

Players pick five numbers from a field of 1 through 59, and a Powerball number from 1 through 35. The Powerball number can be the same as any of the first five numbers.

The odds of winning are 1 in more than 175 million. A winner can take a lump-sum payment or annual payments over 29 years.

Last year, when California announced it would join Powerball, Lottery Director Robert T. O'Neill said he expected the game would add "50 to 100 million additional dollars to supplement public education funding, which is our one and only mission."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

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