The winning ticket


It’s a fair assumption that when those looking to hit it big with a New Mexico Lottery Scratcher are scraping away, the image in the background doesn’t really register.

But that will probably change for residents of Valencia County now that the work of a local photographer is featured on a series of Scratchers that feature New Mexico landmarks.

Photo courtesy of New Mexico Lottery: Holding up a mock New Mexico Lottery Scratcher, local photographer Adrienne Kozacek is one of six New Mexico photographers who have their images featured on New Mexico Lottery’s “I Love New Mexico” Scratcher series that focuses on New Mexico landmarks.

While the image of Carlsbad Caverns National Park isn’t local, village of Los Lunas resident Adrienne Kozacek has called the county home for several years now. Her image of the caverns was one of six chosen from more than 9,300 submissions. The other five winning photographs are also featured on tickets.

Kozacek has been taking pictures since she was in high school, always trying to capture the story behind the events and places she went.

“We went to all these places and I was an avid scrapbooker before I was an avid photographer. I would have five pages that didn’t quite capture the memory but I knew one or two good pictures would do it,” Kozacek said.

Like many photographers of a certain age, she began taking pictures on film and eventually made the change to digital photography. That transition came for Kozacek at Christmas, 2000. She was getting ready to have her first son in South Dakota, and there was a demand from her parents for quick pictures of the grandchild.

She bought a Sony Mavica, which required a 3.5-inch floppy disc to record the pictures.

“If you were lucky, you got five high-resolution pictures,” Kozacek remembers, laughing out loud.

When the family moved to Colorado Springs in 2009, she enrolled in formal photography classes. Up until then, she had read some books and attended a few evening seminars. The classes upped her game, and Kozacek won several awards, including the Aspen Gold Photography Contest in Cripple Creek.

As her skills improved, she began taking portraits of friends and family members.

“I love doing outdoor portraits in the light,” she said.

With a goal of becoming a professional photographer, Kozacek has slowly built a clientele while working as an administrative assistant for Valencia County. Then this spring, Valencia County Under Sheriff Linda Barreras called her out of the blue.

“She wasn’t even at the office. There was no ‘hi,’ just, ‘You need to get on this website,’” Kozacek said.

The website was the New Mexico Lottery’s, and it was looking for pictures.

That night Kozacek went home and pulled together 37 of her best New Mexico pictures. Then she put on her marketing hat.

“I thought, ‘If I was the New Mexico Lottery, what would be considered an iconic place in New Mexico?’” she said.

Kozacek began looking at the other submissions and found places such as Shiprock and White Sands.

“I honestly didn’t expect to win. There were some really awesome pictures,” she said.

But she struck on an awesome idea of her own — Carlsbad Caverns National Park. As a child, her family frequently visited the four-corners area and other parts of the Land of Enchantment, including the caverns.

With nearly a half dozen visits under her belt, her most recent trip was in March 2012 with her husband.

Kozacek had bought a new camera and decided to use her time in the caves to work on low-light shooting. She tried to hand hold the camera, holding her breath to prevent it from shaking and blurring the image.

“It just wasn’t working,” she said. “So finally I propped it up on my husband’s shoulder.”

When they visited the lottery offices, staff there ribbed him about being her tripod, Kozacek said.

After she entered her images, Kozacek said she kind of forgot about the contest. Then an email popped up on April 1.

She fully expected the be greeted with, “‘Sorry, but no,’” she said. “Instead it said, ‘Congratulations.’”

From there it became a whirlwind of activity — publicity shots with the lottery and media interviews.

“This has been a huge boost to my confidence. I mean, you couldn’t pay for this kind of exposure,” she said.

Not only does the win come with a certain amount of notoriety, but also a $500 prize.

“Linda said she knew I was going to win, so she made a deal with me. I had to spend at least half of it on myself,” Kozacek said. “I’m a typical wife and mom; everybody else first.”

She is still working towards becoming a professional photographer and improving her skills. To that end, Kozacek is one of the newest members of the Belen Art League and has three pictures in their photography show.

She recently launched her own website,, and can be reached by email at or by phone at 239-7899 to schedule a portrait session.

Photos of six state landmarks, including Kozacek’s, appear on the New Mexico Lottery’s “I Love New Mexico” Scratcher. The photos featured on the game’s tickets were chosen from those entered by New Mexico residents into a contest sponsored by the lottery and KOAT.

“Our state never takes a bad photo,” said New Mexico Lottery CEO David Barden. “The scenery is stunning and we’re very proud to have these beautiful landmarks on a game that will help put more New Mexicans on the path to a college education.”

Since its inception in 1996, the New Mexico Lottery has raised $604 million for education and more than 90,000 students have attended college on Legislative Lottery Scholarships.

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