Oklahoma’s lottery system, now mainly dealing with scratch-off tickets, is almost four months into its first year. But the real success or failure of the lottery really won’t be known until Thursday, when the first Powerball lottery tickets go on sale in the state.

Powerball, for the uninitiated, is a national lottery involving 29 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands that offers cash prizes that are mind-boggling, to say the least. Last November, for instance, a family in Salem, Ore., won $340 million by holding the winning numbers, the largest-ever prize awarded by Powerball.

As they say in Washington or on Wall Street, that’s real money.

In other words, Powerball is exactly what Oklahomans voted for back in November 2004. Now, it’s time to find out if Oklahomans will put their money where their ballots are.

It can’t come soon enough for the state’s lottery system. Last year, lottery officials announced a goal of $65 million in realized revenue for the state’s education system. To hit that goal, the lottery would have to generate as much as $219 million in sales.

By the end of December, however, lottery sales totaled $63.3 million, according to executive director Jim Scroggins. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, lottery sales will have to increase to meet the target of $219 million in the remaining six months of the current fiscal year.

The hope among state officials and the folks who run the lottery is that Oklahomans may have had a tepid response to possible prizes of $50,000 or so, but when they have the chance to win literally millions of dollars, the response will heat up.

Large prizes have helped states like Texas have a successful lottery system, though even there, revenues for the state are less than promised though still substantial.

Critics of the lottery system have correctly pointed out sales are behind projected revenue goals. They want to rid the state of the lottery. How much Oklahomans embrace Powerball will determine whether there will be real support for the system or the aims of the critics.

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