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July 30, 1974: Lottery ticket sales begin in Illinois

When Illinois began its lottery on July 30, 1974, the Post-Dispatch reported on the first day of sales. Here's that original article:

During the days of the Depression, the numbers game offered a ray of hope for the big-city poor, or so they thought. Many of the unemployed and destitute looked forward to scoring "hits" that paid from $5 to $1000.

"A lot of people made their living gambling on numbers and writing policy," recalled Mrs. Ethel Geter, who described herself as onetime "policy writer" on the East Side. Mrs. Geter, a deeply religious woman, has not written a policy number in nearly 30 years.

But beginning today she will sell her first legitimate number as an agent for the Illinois State Lottery. Lottery tickets officially go on sale today at 7,500 outlets throughout the state. They are priced at 50 cents each.

The first drawing is set for Aug. 8. Mrs. Geter, 58 years old, is a clerk in Hudlin's Pharmacy, 833 Mousette Lane, Centreville. The drug store is one of 235 businesses in St. Clair and Madison counties authorized to sell lottery tickets. The lottery consists of three separate games "The lotto," with prizes from $20 to $5000; "the bonanza," with prizes from $1000 to $300,000, and "the millionaire game," with prizes from $1500 to $1,000,000.

One ticket is good for all three games. Lottery officials estimate that from 5000 to 25,000 ticket cash prizes. But the odds on winning $20 have been placed at 200-to-1;  the odds on winning $300,000 are 6,000,000-to-1. A $1,000,000 winner will be selected at intervals of about six weeks, depending on the number of tickets sold. The odds on becoming a millionaire are 30,000,000 to 1.

The new millionaires will be paid $50,000 a year for the next 20 years; $300,000 winners will be paid $20,000 a year for 15 years, and $100,000 winners will receive $10,000 a year for 10 years. "The way people are asking about tickets," Mrs. Geter said, "I think it will go over better than it did in the old days. Even customers from St. Louis want to play."

Mrs. Geter began her career in the numbers game in 1936. Her job was to sit behind a cage in an East St. Louis barber shop in the 1500 block of Broadway and take in nickels and dimes from players. "Most everybody in the neighborhood played," she recalled.

"Some people would send their children to the barber shop with a note and a nickel." In most metropolitan areas, the numbers racket was operated by organized crime groups. But Mrs. Geter said the games on the East Side had been operated by persons respected in the community. The biggest game on the holders get weekly East Side of that day was In Brooklyn, she said.

"If it was illegal, nothing was done about it," she said. "It was an honest game, and anybody could go there and see them pulling numbers." Mrs. Geter stopped selling numbers when she married in 1947. Five years later, she joined a religious sect. "I wasn't a gambler then, and I am not one now," she said. "I can't stand to lose a nickel. If it was not for my job, I wouldn't be selling these new lottery tickets."

But Mrs. Geter's employer, Russell C. Hudlin, is all for the lottery. "This is the only possible way that some people can get ahead in life," he said. "The banks won't loan them any money. It's a gamble, but this is what made this country great. I think it is a good thing." Carlton Zucker, chairman of the State Lottery Control Board, estimates that revenue for the first fiscal year will be about $150,000,000. The state is expected to keep about $60,000,000 with an equal amount going to prize winners. Administrative expenses will use up the rest. "This is big business," Zucker said recently. "It is going to be successful, "it's going to be honest, and it's going to be fun." Early reports indicated that ticket sales were brisk in most of the supermarkets, bars, package liquor stores and retail outlets authorized to sell them.

Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201

@mandystlpd on Twitter

astamand@post-dispatch.com