- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — For years, Tony Kim watched as customers looking to buy gas, snacks or cigarettes bypassed his store and crossed the state line into Kentucky in search of one item he couldn’t deliver: lottery tickets.

Beginning today, Mr. Kim hopes to draw that business back to his Favorite Xpress BP store when Tennessee starts its own lottery — a venture almost 20 years in the making.

“We have to join the game — everybody’s doing it,” said Mr. Kim, who with several partners owns three other convenience stores in Clarksville and five more about 10 miles north over the Kentucky line. “You have to go where the money is.”

The start of the Tennessee games, with proceeds earmarked for college scholarships, comes more than a year after voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to lift the state’s constitutional ban on lotteries.

Before the change, Tennessee was the only state in the Southeast without any legalized form of gambling, and one of just three in the nation along with Utah and Hawaii.

Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana and South Carolina have state lotteries. Mississippi is home to the casino town of Tunica, while Alabama has dog racing and Arkansas boasts dog and horse racing. Cherokee Indians run a casino in North Carolina.

Tennessee’s lottery can’t come soon enough for Mr. Kim, who says the state and its businesses have lost money by watching and waiting while neighboring states make money off lotteries of their own.

“That was a big mistake, and we’ve lost a lot of revenue from it,” said Mr. Kim, who hopes to bring in an additional $300 to $400 a day in ticket sales.

“At our stores on the Kentucky side, you can tell the difference in sales. The grocery section they don’t give a hoot about; lottery is the main business,” he said.

Tennessee debated the issue for 20 years before approving it, but state Sen. Steve Cohen — the chief lottery sponsor, who predicts $300 million in first-year sales — says it’s better late than never.

“We’ll do well,” said Mr. Cohen. “It would have been nice to have beaten Georgia and Kentucky” to the punch had the House approved a referendum on removing the ban in 1986, as lawmakers eventually did in 2001.

“But life is today forward, so whatever we bring in is more than we would otherwise have, which is zero.”

Lottery chief Rebecca Paul, who in September left the same position in Georgia to oversee the games here, said Tennessee benefited from watching the development of other lotteries over the years.

That includes writing Tennessee’s lottery law to imitate Georgia’s, which industry analysts have called the most well-rounded lottery legislation in the country, Miss Paul said. The law calls for revenue from the games to pay for HOPE college scholarships for Tennessee students, with excess money going to prekindergarten programs and K-12 building projects.

Businesses on the other side of the Tennessee state line are bracing for a lull in sales when the Tennessee Lottery starts.

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