Pa. Lottery scratches Gus

HARRISBURG — As if there were any doubts, Punxsutawney Phil again sits as the only Pennsylvania groundhog that matters, as his lottery-pitching wannabe has apparently scratched his last ticket.

Tuesday, during a hearing on the state Department of Revenue budget, Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Todd Rucci said that the lottery has pulled the plug on spokesgroundhog Gus, dubbed “The Second-Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania.”

Rucci said that the TV campaign featuring Gus ended this month, although Gus will still appear on the lottery’s Web site for a period of time.

Bill Deeley, president of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, said the lottery approached the club several years ago about Punxsutawney Phil as its spokesperson.

“But the big thing was, they wanted a groundhog that spoke, and we said that Phil doesn’t speak,” he said.

That was just prior to Gus’ 2004 debut. Looking back, however, Deeley acknowledged that even if the club had gone along with the lottery’s plan and sought only a small percentage of its profits, “That would have been enough to support Groundhog Day forever,” he said.

In Gus’ initial promos, the Pennsylvania Lottery proclaimed him as “The Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania.” That didn’t last long after the club took umbrage to that title, and hence Gus’ ever-after title, “The Second-Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania.”

Also, Deeley said, “We didn’t like the gambling end of it, but our major hang-up was the speaking. We were not comfortable with the gambling, but we could have lived with it.”

Rucci told The Patriot-News that in March, lottery officials hope to unveil a new marketing campaign aimed at making people more aware of everything the lottery does.

The Associated Press said Gus was created to help introduce new instant ticket games. But officials said they believe the campaign has now reached everyone it can, and they want to try to tap new market segments.

To his credit, the Patriot News said Gus’ campaign was enough of a hit that past lottery directors had to expressly reject requests to convert him into a plush toy, another Gus-Phil aspect that sounds a bit familiar when examining Gus’ work as it shadows that of Punxsutawney Phil.

At his imposed retirement, Gus is only about eight years old, while the ever-famous Punxsutawney Phil just made his 126th prognostication during Groundhog Day 20 days ago.

“We’ve outlived them all,” Deeley said.