OKLAHOMA CITY Oklahoma will become the 41st state in the country to offer a lottery when 1,200 businesses start selling instant tickets at 5 a.m. today.
Online lottery sales are planned for November and the state is scheduled to join the national Powerball system in January.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the lottery last fall, despite strong opposition from church groups in this Bible Belt state. Gov. Brad Henry led the long political fight to create the statewide game as a way to raise money for public schools. All the states that surround Oklahoma except Arkansas have a lottery.
Jim Scroggins, executive director of the Oklahoma Lottery Commission, said scratch-off tickets worth $21 million have been distributed to retail outlets. The tickets come in denominations of $1, $2 and $5.
"We're ready to go," Scroggins said. He headed the Missouri lottery for 13 years before being hired to run the Oklahoma game.
Henry bought a package of four tickets for $10 in a ceremony Tuesday and promptly gave them to Robyn Hilger, recently named Oklahoma teacher of the year.
"Can you imagine the uproar if I would win a big prize," Henry said. "I promise you, as long as I'm governor, I will not cash in a winning lottery ticket, nor will anybody in my family."
The kickoff of the lottery was officially approved earlier in the day by the commission. The panel also reversed itself Tuesday and decided to prohibit pawnshops, payday loan companies and check-cashing stores from selling lottery tickets. Henry and several lawmakers said financially strapped Oklahomans could be taken advantage of if sales were allowed by those retailers.
Education will get 30 percent of net lottery sales the first year and 35 percent after that. The rest of the money will go to prizes and toward the cost of operating the lottery. A constitutional "lockbox" approved by voters ensures lottery proceeds will not be used to supplant existing education funding.
"This is a major step toward significantly improving the education system in Oklahoma," said Hilger, a band and orchestra teacher at Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School in Oklahoma City.
Officials predict the lottery will bring in $65 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends next June 30 and as much as $150 million a year after that.