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Plastic for lottery, if law is passed

State law would be updated to allow people to use their credit cards to buy lottery tickets in New Mexico under a proposal introduced by the chairman of a powerful Senate committee.

The legislation sponsored by Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming is aimed at boosting ticket sales and increasing revenue for the struggling lottery scholarship fund.

New Mexico lottery and higher education officials told lawmakers before the start of the 60-day session that without boosting ticket sales or finding another source of revenue, the lottery scholarship fund will not be able to keep up as tuition increases and demand for financial assistance grows.

Tapping into people’s spending habits and technology will be key, the officials said.

Although more than 80 percent of tickets are sold at convenience stores, New Mexico Lottery CEO David Barden said statistics show about 73 percent of people who stop for gas never go inside – and that amounts to lost opportunity.

“We have to be where the people are, and we’re not exactly where the people are right now,” Barden said Monday. “Like everybody else, we’re playing catch-up.”

Only Minnesota and Missouri have lottery programs in which players can purchase tickets at the gas pump.

Even if the legislation were to pass, changes in the lottery’s bottom line wouldn’t happen overnight. The state would have to wait for convenience stores to update their pumps with the new technology. But Barden said that within five to 10 years, lottery ticket sales could rise by as much as $5 million.

In the near term, the legislation would open the door to online and mobile sales.

Under Smith’s bill, a person over 18 could use a credit or debit card to buy up to $20 worth of lottery tickets. Currently, tickets and other lottery games can be purchased only with cash or a check.