Scratch-Off Lottery Sales Soar

By: - May 13, 2020 12:00 am

Scratch-off lottery ticket sales are way up as the pandemic fuels people’s dreams of windfalls and desires for instant gratification. Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This story was updated May 13, 2020, to correct a reference to the Texas Lottery’s sales numbers for the week ending May 2.

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At a time when cooped-up Americans are looking for entertainment and hoping for a windfall more than ever, scratch-off lottery ticket sales have skyrocketed.

It’s a rare bright spot for state budgets, since most states’ tax revenue has dropped and spending is up because of the coronavirus.

For example, in Oklahoma, total lottery sales were just over $7.7 million for the week ending April 25, up about 75% compared with the same time last year, driven almost entirely by scratch-offs. That included nearly $5.9 million in scratch-off sales, up from $2.5 million last year.

“The numbers are extraordinary,” said Jay Finks, marketing director for the Oklahoma Lottery. He attributed the surge to the introduction in December of a new $20 scratch-off ticket, the expansion in February of lottery sales into 7-Eleven stores, and a “demand for gaming because … people are looking for things to do. People can’t gamble on sports, can’t watch sports, can’t go to casinos, can’t go to movies.”

“I think you are seeing the discretionary income go to what’s available,” he said in a phone interview.

At the same time, the multistate Mega Millions and Powerball games are seeing significant drops in players and jackpots. People are not getting out of the house as much and when they do, they are reluctant to take the time to pick numbers and hand cash to attendants.

With fewer players, the jackpots diminish — a vicious cycle since lower jackpots usually mean less interest, and even fewer players. That has made total state lottery revenue decline in most states.

But scratch-off tickets, with their more immediate gratification, have brought states good luck.

Lottery sales in Texas for the week ending May 2 totaled $146 million, one of the highest weekly sales totals since January 2016, when a Powerball jackpot of over $1.6 billion led to a nationwide frenzy that lifted all states’ sales. The May 2 total was driven by the highest-ever sales of scratch-off tickets, a 24% increase over last year. Draw game sales were down 3.5% from the same week last year.

Gary Grief, the state lottery’s executive director, said pent-up demand for entertainment and casino closures in surrounding states have contributed to the increase in scratch-off ticket sales in late April and early May.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.