Iowa Lottery Considers Selling Lotto Tickets In Supermarket Checkout Lanes

Written By Russ Mitchell on October 21, 2021

Would you like some Mega Millions with your macaroni or Powerball with your protein bars? That might be a reasonable question, as the Iowa Lottery considers putting its lottery products in supermarket checkout lanes.

Mary Neubauer, the IA Lottery vice president for external relations, said:

“We’re very early in the process of investigating what I would call new ways for customers to be able to purchase lottery products. So, in many locations right now, especially in big locations like supermarkets, the only place where lottery tickets are sold is at the customer service counter.”

States across the country have explored in-lane supermarket lottery sales.

How would checkout lane lottery purchases work?

It’s no accident that magazines, candy bars and 20-ounce drinks are near the checkout line. Buyers might not make a special trip down Aisle 5 for a bag of Peanut M&Ms.

Retailers call any extra steps to buy a product “retail friction.” The Iowa Lottery could reduce that friction by eliminating that additional trip to the customer service counter.

“Certainly, folks can go over there, and they do buy their lottery tickets,” Neubauer said.

“For a game like Powerball or Mega Millions, there would be what are called hang tags in the aisle, where you, as the customer, could just get the hang tag, give it to the clerk who was doing your transaction, and it could be scanned. Then a ticket would print out right in the lane so that you wouldn’t have to go to another location in the store.”

She compared it to buying gift cards.

“The gift cards are sitting there, but they’re not activated until you give them to the clerk and the clerk actually scans the card and puts the amount of money on the card that you would need. The hang tag would be in that vein.”

Checkout lane lottery sales of Powerball or Mega Millions would probably be “quick pick” or “easy pick” options only. More than 90% of lotto plays — and wins — are easy picks.

Neubauer said:

“It’s not a situation where you would be able to pick your own numbers. But it certainly would make the process of buying lottery tickets more convenient in those locations. So that’s what we’re looking at.”

No timeline for in-lane Iowa Lottery concept

Customers won’t see the lotto hang tags at Iowa supermarkets anytime soon. The concept isn’t something the IA Lottery could implement quickly. Equipment purchases and installation will require a formal bidding process.

But, Neubauer said, “It’s certainly something that we hope to bring to fruition here.

“Just the way that we interact with each other has changed so much, especially in the last year-and-a-half during the COVID-19 emergency. This is all kind of part of that trend that you see in the retail world as a whole. But this is certainly something that applies to lottery specifically.”

Can you buy lottery tickets online?

Online Iowa Lottery games won’t be coming to your phone or desktop computer any time soon, according to the lottery vice president.

“There are multiple states around the country where lottery tickets can be sold online, but Iowa is not one of those places yet. The actual decision about going online — that’s really something for our state policymakers and state lawmakers to make.

“But really, there are many other things we can do to try to make it as convenient as possible for people to buy lottery tickets. Certainly in-lane is one of the things that we are looking at.”

The Iowa Lottery’s LotteryPlus app allows you to check your ticket for winning numbers, earn promotions and find a lotto retailer near you.

Iowa Lottery gets system upgrade

The Iowa Lottery went through a large-scale system upgrade this fall. Retailers have better touchscreens and faster ticket printing to get customers through the line more quickly.

Neubauer said:

“From the customer perspective, hopefully, they don’t notice too much that this occurred. But about once a decade here in Iowa, the lottery’s entire gaming system statewide has to be replaced. That includes the communication system that links all of our lottery terminals and lottery equipment around the state in real-time.”

The Iowa Lottery upgraded its self-checking kiosks and jackpot signs as part of the process.

“That equipment upgrade also allows us to start looking at more forward-looking technology including in-lane sales. That just wouldn’t have been as easy with our older system. The equipment that the lottery had in the field had been in place since 2011. And so, in some ways, it’s amazing that that equipment even lasts as long as it does. When you think about computers, they’re kind of five-year products these days.

“It’s always a huge project when we undertake it. We’re glad to have made it through that process. And now we’ll start looking to the next projects on the horizon.”

Photo by Charlie Neibergall / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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