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Are lottery vending machine safeguards enough to keep minors from playing?

It's a multibillion dollar industry, pumping money into education, but is the North Carolina Education Lottery doing enough to keep teens younger than 18 from getting their hands on lottery tickets?

A News 13 investigation found issues with a primary safety feature to prevent underage sales.

The state has 1,200 lottery ticket vending machines, more than $37 million in sales and the state doesn't appear to be checking to see if these shiny tickets proven to attract kids and raising money for their education are falling into the wrong hands.

“You got your ID, man?” questioned Market Center clerk Will Reynolds.

“These are all winners, not counting the losers I have in the trash can,” Reynolds said as he showed a stack of more than two dozen scratch off lottery tickets.

The odds of Reynolds selling $1,000 in lottery tickets a day is a safe bet.

“If you don't have ID, no sale,” Reynolds said.

He's not willing to gamble his job for a misdemeanor.

“We, as cashiers, have the right to refuse service at any given time,” Reynolds said.

Even allowing parents to hand over the ticket to their kid to scratch is illegal.

“We won't let them scratch them in the store. What they do in the privacy of their own home is up to them. We can't control that,” Reynolds said.

Sam Crask worries selling scratch-offs out of a vending machine gives up some of that control.

“I think it's kind of weird, anyways, that you can get lottery tickets out of a vending machine instead of having to go up to an actual person and buy them,” Crask said.

The state has used vending machines for 10 years. There are 1,200 statewide, but what Crask found had him dialing the News 13 I-team.

“I could go buy a ticket right now without an ID,” Crask said.

North Carolina was first nationwide to require driver's license readers on lottery vending machines. That’s exactly what Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, with the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviors through McGill University, recommends.

“Even if you need a driver's license, you can ask your older brother or older sister for their license. It's just one more step to make it difficult to purchase tickets,” Derevensky said.

Still, News 13 put Crask's concern to the test. There was no ID in the slot where it should be inserted, but we were able to buy tickets at three mountain locations.

Scratching your head? That's because retailers can ask that the biggest safeguard to underage sales be disabled. Stores are given a remote to disable the safety feature, but officials must sign every six months that they’re monitoring the machine.

“It's for customer service, not every driver's license has the technology that allows it to be read by the device,” Van Denton, communications director for the NC Education Lottery, said.

In the mountains, where Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina licenses are an issue, the state says the responsibility falls to the stores.

“The responsibility is still on them to make sure that anyone buying from the machine is 18 or older,” Denton said.

That can be difficult.

“There's times I'll have 10 to 15 people standing in line and I'm just glancing around the store. It only takes 30 seconds to purchase a ticket and walk out,” said Reynolds, the clerk at Market Center.

Last year, the state issued zero citations for underage lottery ticket sales. A check with Alcohol Law Enforcement, which monitors underage ticket sales, found the state stopped doing compliance checks unless a complaint is made. The cutback is a result of manpower issues. ALE is also tasked with monitoring underage liquor sales, which is a higher priority.

“There's always someone trying to beat the system, but, in the end, the retailer has to make sure that anyone buying a lottery ticket is 18 or older,” Denton said.

Compliance checks can make a difference. In 2014, when more than 300 were done, nearly 60 illegal purchases were made, according to information from ALE.

Right now, the state is making an effort to replace older machines.

Many mountain retailers said they don't disable license readers on lottery machines because they can't watch and don't want the responsibility.

If you have a tip for the I-team to investigate email us here.

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