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Wednesday, 29 March 2006 00:00

Retailers get ready for opening day

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By Michael Beadle

As the opening date approaches for the North Carolina Education Lottery, local retailers in Western North Carolina are gearing up to sell the first batch of tickets.

At the Cullasaja Exxon outside of Franklin, owner Ronnie Setzer is ready.

After submitting an application to the state’s lottery commission, getting fingerprinted, going through a criminal background check and credit check, submitting paperwork for a revenue audit, and completing a training session, he became one of about 5,000 certified sites in the state that will be able to sell official lottery tickets.

The store received ticket boxes and computerized equipment that track transactions by satellite. The tickets are scheduled to arrive two days before they go on sale to the public starting at 6 a.m. Thursday, March 30.

“We expect to have a good crowd,” Setzer said. “We feel like it’s going to give us more customers in the store.”

By conservative estimates, Setzer expects to sell about 600 to 700 tickets a day starting this week. As it is now, Setzer says Cullasaja Exxon gets about 850 to 900 customers daily. In addition to the regular customers, the store is counting on drawing new customers, especially those who drive to and from nearby South Carolina and Georgia.

To accommodate the surge in customers, the store will be operating three cash registers at a time during the opening weeks of the lottery. One of the registers will handle lottery tickets only.

“We’re going to treat the lottery like a totally separate business,” Setzer said. “We’re going to be very customer-conscious about this. We want this to be the smoothest transition in the world.”

To streamline the process, Setzer is asking that customers either purchase lottery tickets at the very beginning or the very end of their transaction so other customers won’t be waiting in line any more than necessary.

With an increase in business comes the increased risk of theft, so as a precaution, Setzer recently installed a new security camera system that covers all angles of the store.

In Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, there will be about 60 locations officially certified to sell N.C. Education Lottery tickets. Retailers get 7 percent of the profits from ticket sales and also get a percentage of larger cash prizes if the store sells a winning ticket. Powerball tickets — the ones often associated with mega-million-dollar cash prizes — don’t go on sale until May.

Stores that sell lottery tickets get back about 20 to 30 percent of the money from winning ticket sales when people come back and shop, according to state lottery statistics.

For Jeremy Cody of Cody’s Express in Sylva, selling lottery tickets was another way of expanding the family’s business that has served local customers for 53 years.

“It’ll take us a while to get used to the system,” Cody said, adding that the store set up a new, state-of-the-art security camera system and extra space to store the lottery equipment and tickets.

Just days before the tickets go on sale at Sandy’s Auto/Truck Plaza gas station in Canton, owner Sandy Smith said the lottery talk has died down some after the initial announcement that tickets would be coming. Smith said she’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

At Pops Country Store in Whittier, manager Tracy Payne said she and her customers are excited to have the lottery starting.

“We haven’t had any negativity at all,” Payne said. “Everybody seems like they’re pretty excited about it.”

As one of 14 stores in Jackson County selling lottery tickets, Pops Country Store has also installed new security cameras.

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