LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Decades removed from the backroom bookie running a lucky numbers game for a neighborhood, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is partnering with an app maker to play draw games online in a way that looks a little like those old gambling rackets. Only this version is legal.
"This is just yet another way that the lottery can get a little bit more money to add to the education fund," said Jarrod Johnson, an early adopter of the app Jackpocket. He has been placing bets on various lottery draws since May, when the app soft-launched in Arkansas and a targeted social media ad peaked his interest.
"We manage and oversee the actual lottery retailers, not the app that they're selling through, so yeah, this is fully within the rules," said Scott Hardin, the spokesperson for the Lottery.
The key to keeping the app legal is the New York-based company needed to actually become a lottery seller in Arkansas. Winners Corner fills a small storefront on 12th St. in Little Rock where they sell board games, but more importantly, keep a lottery terminal behind the counter.
The company referred Johnson to THV11 and we weren't allowed to see the machines, but the store had all of the other indicators of lottery retailers, including a stand to manually fill out tickets.
Johnson showed us how he uploads money into his account. That's the point where Jackpocket charges a service fee. The app displays all the games and their jackpots available that day. A player chooses a game, selects numbers, and then places the bet. That's when an image of the ticket appears on the phone, complete with the player's name stamped on it. The company says that ticket is generated at the store and secured, making it as legal as handing a store clerk a Mass Millions slip.
To an older generation, the act of essentially phoning in a bet is remarkable, but to some a little younger, it's an idea that seems normal in our typical online lives these days.
"Since I got Jackpocket, I give myself a second Netflix budget," Johnson said, though he also said, unlike the streaming service, he hasn't had to pay anything beyond his initial deposit. He's on a mild lucky streak.
"It's contact-less. It's safe. And if it's a winner for less than $600, you're going to see that deposited or you can go pick it up," Hardin said.
By law, any lottery payoff more than $500 has to be cashed in at the state claims office. That would mean a big winner needs to first get the physical ticket from Winners Corner and then head to the lottery office in downtown Little Rock.
Presumably, it's a trip worth making even if you played from a far corner of the state.
The ability to avoid contact is another aspect that fits the new normal pandemic economy. Scratch ticket sales have surged in the last six months, but draw games have slumped. The company and the state hope the app gives games like Powerball a boost.
"This may be a step toward moving draw games, maybe increasing in popularity hopefully and adding maybe a little more to the bottom line, which is ultimately college scholarships," Hardin said.
Hardin also points out what the app does not do. It does not set up independent online games. It only gives you access to games offered in Arkansas or a chance to pool money with others in pursuit of jackpots in other states where Jackpocket is legal.
It also doesn't let players buy scratch-off tickets or access other legal forms of gambling in the state like casino games or sports betting. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort has an online account wagering platform that allows players to bet on horse and dog races.