When Scott Kelly goes to the bar he buys a beer and some break-open or pull-tab tickets. They're instant win-type tickets sold at bars and by some nonprofits. This day, Kelly bought 10 tickets at $1 apiece.
"Something to do. I'm sitting here being bored, no one else is here, I'll play a ticket just to make the time pass," Kelly said.
"You come in, you spend $1 a ticket and you can win anywhere from $2 to $200," said DeDe Miller, who co-owns the Pearl Street Pub in Essex Junction.
Miller says the Pearl Street Pub sells up to 12,000 of the $1 tickets a week. That's 624,000 tickets a year. Owners say the tickets keep people eating and drinking for longer periods of time, so they're good for business. Patrons also tip the bartenders better when they win.
Reporter Gina Bullard: Are they a popular item?
DeDe Miller: Yes.
Gina Bullard: Why?
DeDe Miller: It's the only form of gambling we have around here.
After winners are paid, the remaining money from ticket sales is supposed to go to charity. The Pearl Street Pub says it donates thousands of dollars to places like the Lund Center and the Essex Fire Department.
Currently, the tickets are largely unregulated in Vermont. Now, the Shumlin Administration has expressed concerns about potential abuse. Gov. Peter Shumlin wants better records and more regulation. The governor also wants a 10 percent surcharge on each ticket. Shumlin says the tax will raise $17 million for three programs; $6 million would go to LIHEAP, $6 million to set up a thermal efficiency program and $5 million for the Clean Energy Development Fund to help build renewable energy projects.
But bar owners worry the surcharge will hurt sales.
"It would just hurt the charities," Miller said. "It all goes for really good causes."
The proposed plan calls for the Vermont Department of Liquor Control to regulate the process. Up to 200 million tickets ranging in price are sold each year in Vermont.
"I think they could do that without taking money from tickets that are spending their hard-earned money to pay for them," Kelly said.
If the plan goes through, Kelly's 10 tickets would end up costing $11 instead of $10. But he says he's likely to keep playing, hoping he pulls a winner.
There are currently seven manufacturers and seven distributors of the tickets in Vermont.
Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states that currently regulate those break-open or pull-tab tickets.
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