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Space jaunt flops with lottery focus groups

State lottery officials considered a flight to the space station as a prize. They'll stick with money.

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Published December 13, 2003

The Florida Lottery has decided not to send a lucky winner on a ride to outer space, because most ticket-buyers would rather head to the nearest bank.

The Virginia-based company Space Adventures tried to persuade Lottery officials to launch a new game that would have sent the winner to the international space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Lottery officials seriously considered the idea.

"It's an intriguing concept. Florida is at the forefront of the space industry ... a space-themed game was appealing," Bob Nave, chief of staff of the Florida Lottery, said Friday.

So Lottery officials assembled five or six focus groups around the state to see whether frequent players would buy tickets, Nave said.

That's where the plan fizzled.

The focus groups confirmed the conventional wisdom among Lottery experts: Customers want money.

"Although the opportunity to go into space is intriguing, most players would like to have cash," Nave said.

What liability would the state incur with such a game?

How many tickets would the state need to sell?

There was no need to answer these questions after customers called the concept a dud.

"If the players tell you, "We don't like this game. We're not going to play it,' it's a pretty easy decision," Nave said.

The Lottery occasionally has given away prizes such as cars and motorcycles, but large piles of cash have always proved the most popular.

Space Adventures has a contract with the Russian space agency for two seats on the Soyuz.

The company proposed the idea last year, and Lottery officials ultimately said no.

After Rebecca Mattingly signed on as Lottery secretary in March, the company tried its pitch again, but with the same result, Nave said.

Other options besides the trip to the space station that were proposed were a suborbital ride in a spacecraft, at an estimated cost of $100,000, and an aircraft ride that achieves zero-gravity, at an estimated cost of $5,000 to $15,000, according to Space Adventures president and CEO Eric Anderson.

"Space tourism already exists, but it's just not in the reach of most folks," said former NASA astronaut Norm Thagard, an adviser to Space Adventures and associate dean at Florida State's College of Engineering. "This would certainly bring it down a notch in terms of access."

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