The people running the legal numbers games in northern New England are getting tired of watching larger states rcap high profits from their lotteries by offering bigger payoffs. So the directors of state lotteries in Maine. New Hampshire and Vermont have begun talking about a tri-state daily lottery.
Main State Lottery Commissioner George Orestis says he and directors from Maire's neighboring states may start a jointly operated lottery game that would offer bigger prizes and more profit than the states could hope for separately.
It's an idea that first was talked about by the retired director of the New Hampshire lottery," says Orestis. "They've been in this game the longest, and he come up with the idea as a way to cover a larger population." He adds that the idea takes on more meaning in light of threatened taxpayer revolts.
"With Proposition 13, a law limiting property taxes, passing in California we've all got to be thinking about new revenue sources for the state." Orestis thinks the tristate game is one possible alternative.
New Hampshire Lottery Director Charles Nutter says. "We have sort of put that idea on the back burner for a while, but we are definitely interested in combining forces.
"Neither Maine, New Hampshire nor Vermont could give away $1 million as often as larger states do. Sure, we could give not only minor prizes for a year or so and then give out $1 million, but I'm afraid people would lose interest in the lottery."
Nutter adds. "When you're talking a tri-state lottery, you're talking big. That's big money we can't come up with alone"
For the small northern New England states, lottery sales volume has always been a problem. None of the states has reached a population much over one million and despite heavy summer tourist traffic, lottery sales are low.
Last year Maine grossed just under $7 million on weekly and instant games and turned over a $1.5 million profit to the state's general fund. Massachusetts, the nearest metropolitan state, did $152.8 million worth of lottery business in 1977. The Massachusetts lottery turned over $37.7 million to cities and towns in direct grants and sent nearly $10 million more to the state.
"The $10 million," says a spokesman for the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, "came just from the daily numbers game. The daily game is our biggest draw."
In Vermont, lottery director J. Henry Malkus is cautiously optimistic about the tri-state proposition. "We have to be concerned becaused we would be the little sister. Maine has more than one million people, New Hampshire has almost that many and we have just half a million."
He adds. "That'e about one-fifth of the total. That means we would get one-fifth of the revenue and only one-fifth of the winners. People here might lose interest if they only get a winner every five weeks. I wonder what the Vermont players would think about that."
But Malkus does envy the larger takes bigger states get from daily "lotto" type games. "The lotto allows people to pick their own number and that's what we've been talking about," Malkus says. "There are petitions for a Proposition 13 types proposal already circulating here and we are concerned."
Maine's Orestis says. "It might be a situation where we would have computer terminals throughout the region. A person would go in, say to a 'mom and pop' store, and pick a number. Right then a central computer would tell them if they win."
Orestis admits that picking the computer sites, and staff would be "quite a problem."
Malkus adds, "It will be a long time before a smooth running tri-state lottery will be working. It is an appealing idea but many months, maybe years, away."
The Maine and New Hampshire lotteries have met with criticism from citizens who say the games have not produced as much revenue as had been anticipated. Vermon't lottery is just 20 weeks old and revenue figures are not yet available.
If the three Yankee states ever do get together long enough to work out the daily lottery plan, they probably will be slowed by a battle for federal approval.
Main attorney General Joseph Brennan says, "I strongly suggest the three states start talking now with the U.S. Justice and Treasury Departments." He says a tri-state lottery would require an interstate computer, with congressional approval.
So, the lottery alliance is only in the talking stage, north country lawyers and state officials says they are serious about teaming up to fight the bigger states for the gamblers' attention and dollars.