Hitting the Jackpot: Rebecca Hargrove's Winning Strategy

IMAGE: Hitting the Jackpot: Rebecca Hargroves Winning Strategy

You may not have heard of Rebecca Paul Hargrove, but in the lottery world, she's a celebrity.

The brash, hard-charging CEO of the Tennessee lottery has accomplished what nobody else has in the state-run gaming business. She ran the lottery in Illinois where sales topped $1.3 billion. Next, Hargrove moved to Florida, where she set a new record: $95 million in sales the first week.

In Florida, Hargrove's marketing strategy included appearing in ads and handing out checks. But some thought she was too flamboyant and she ultimately was fired.

Playing the Lottery

She wasn't out of work long. Georgia tapped her to start its lottery and ticket sales increased 10 percent every year for the decade she was in charge.

Now the 60-year-old dynamo leads one of the nation's newest and most successful state-run gaming operations -- the Tennessee lottery.

Her critics say she's promoting a "fool's tax," taking advantage of people who are not financially sophisticated, and this at a time when most people don't have a lot of spare money.

Hargrove brushes off the notion that lotteries manipulate those who are low-income or uneducated.

"Well, you use the word 'tax' and I have never known taxes to be voluntary," she said. "If you don't pay your taxes, you are going to go to jail. If you don't buy your lotto ticket, you aren't going to jail."

"There are a handful of people who may buy more lottery tickets than they should and I wish that didn't happen," she said. "There are people who have addictions. I am addicted to Diet Coke. You can be addicted to anything. I'm not sure that makes shopping bad or Diet Cokes bad or lotteries bad."

Winning the Lotto: A Dream Come True

As the economy has crumbled, more and more have turned to the dream of that ultimate windfall.

"Lotteries are huge business," Hargrove said. "Let me put it in perspective for you. Last year, the movie industry ... all the box office receipts across the country were about $9 billion. Music: $20 billion. Salty snacks, pretzels, chips, all that stuff ... about $40 billion. Fifty-five billion dollars of lottery tickets were sold -- $55 billion!"

Her winning strategy is fueled by innovative TV ads and new games. The latest is a $20 scratch ticket called Tennessee Millionaires Club.

"The introduction of this game alone, our sales went up $7 million a week," she said. "We've had three million-dollar winners [in a month]."

Hargrove said one of the women who won the $1 million called her husband but couldn't get the words out that she had won. She could hardly breathe but managed to say, "I hit the... I hit the...," which made him think she had been in a car accident. Finally, she found the right words and told him she had hit the lottery.

Whether it was coincidence or her latest savvy marketing move, a fourth million-dollar winner happened to show up the day "Nightline" visited: Brandy Bowling, an unemployed single mother of two.

She said she felt as though her head was "about to explode."

"I can't wait to get the check in my hand to, you know, believe it's really happening," Bowling said. "My family has always worked hard and struggled, and to have this happen to us is awesome. I think my family deserves this."

Profiting From a Risky Business

Of course, the lottery is a game of chance that some say exploits those who can least afford it. But Hargrove doesn't view it that way.

"I am very proud of what I have accomplished in four states," she said.

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