Rising gasoline prices have brought a new twist on the state lottery in Florida.
Once a week for the next two months, the second-prize winner in the latest lottery promotion, “Summer Cash,” will win free gasoline for life. And some people think that is a better deal than the game's first prize, a quarter of a million dollars.
“If gas keeps going up and up – and I expect it will – then I'd rather have free gas for life,” said Robert Acosta, who spends about $50 a week on fuel for his four-cylinder Toyota Scion and bought a $5 Summer Cash ticket in anticipation of the first drawing, this Wednesday.
Not that a winner's right to free gasoline is unlimited. Rather, each winner will be awarded 26 prepaid gas cards, each worth $100, every year until death. Were the 44-year-old Acosta to win, and live to be twice his current age, the total payout to him in free gasoline would be $114,400. That is far short of the first prize, particularly since virtually all the gas prize would be paid in future dollars.
But with a gallon of unleaded regular in South Florida costing an average of about $4.30, some players are ready to forgo the math.
“Gas has become more precious than cash now,” Bernard Feldman said.
Feldman, a customer service supervisor at a Miami Beach supermarket that sells lottery tickets, said sales of Summer Cash tickets had been steadily increasing since they began on June 30, a trend the state hopes will continue throughout the summer.
“People seem to like it,” said Jackie Barreiros, director of public affairs for the Florida Lottery. “Obviously gas is something that everyone needs right now with prices being so high.”
The N.C. Education Lottery isn't just giving away gas, it's giving away cars. In its upcoming “Get Truckin'” promotion, the lottery will give away five Ford F-150 pickup trucks along with a $1,000 gas card, said spokeswoman Pam Walker. South Carolina lottery director Ernie Passailaigue said the state might consider something similar if Florida's promotion is successful.
Florida joins states including Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Washington that have started giving away gasoline as a lottery prize. Florida decided to do so after 90 percent of regular lottery players, responding to a poll in which a year's home mortgage payments were among the other choices, said the prize they would most prefer was free fill-ups.
To be sure, some see the gas prize as a kind of bait and switch.
“It's not like you can fill up with gas for free as much as you want,” said one player, Esther Appel of Miami Beach, who bought a Summer Cash ticket last Friday in hopes of winning the $250,000 first prize.
“I don't know how long I'm going to be around,” said Appel, 53. “Besides, what happens when it goes up to $5 or $10 a gallon?”
Observer staff writer Nancy Wang contributed.