In August and September, teens under age 18 were paired with state agents and made visits to 348 lottery sales outlets across North Carolina.
At each store, the minor tried to purchase a $1 scratch-off ticket -- in violation of state law, which prohibits sales of lottery games to anyone under 18. They were successful in making the purchase 98 times, or in more than one of every four attempts.
Mike Robertson, director of the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement and enforcer of lottery laws, said in an interview that he was surprised at the success of the minors in the state's first test of the underage lottery law.
"I thought it was too high," Robertson said.
When ALE agents conduct similar checks of sales of tobacco and alcohol to minors, the compliance by sellers is better, he said.
With tobacco, minors are generally successful 18 percent of the time. With alcohol, the sale takes place about one in every five attempts, or 20 percent of the time.
Robertson said the success rate of 28 percent for lottery ticket purchases by minors is due to a gap in training sellers.
Lottery officials agree. They are reminding store clerks with regularity that selling to minors is prohibited. Fliers on the issue have been hand-delivered to each store.
State law also prohibits minors from redeeming any tickets.
The state lottery commission this month adopted for the first time a policy on sales to minors. It put in place a three strikes process.
On a first offense, retailers get a warning. On a second offense within three years, the lottery license could be suspended for up to 30 days. A third offense can lead to cancellation of the outlet's ability to sell.
Of the statewide citations, there were three each in Wake and Durham counties and one in Johnston. There were none in Orange County.
Millicent Steele, owner of the Office Connection on Fayetteville Road in Durham, was one of those cited. In court, she received a prayer for judgment continued, a legal option that withholds punishment for an offense.
Steele said she doesn't recall being trained about sales to minors -- especially as a business that doesn't sell alcohol or tobacco. She said she is upset that she sold a ticket to a 16-year-old.
After the citation, she said, she got out of the lottery business.
"I thought I was doing something to help education by pushing the tickets," she said. "And here I was selling to the minor."
Robertson said that checks will continue regularly, and randomly, across the state.
Staff writer J. Andrew Curliss can be reached at 829-4840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.