Coronavirus has negative impact on U.S. lottery sales

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Each day, Coloradans walk into stores around the state and plunk down money to play the lottery. One of 28 scratch games, perhaps a jackpot game like Powerball or Mega Millions, or one called Lucky for Life. These places are still getting traffic.

“They’re buying bulk in liquor, but they’re conserving the lottery money so the lottery sales are down,” said Tom Rudy with M&H Discount Liquors. “It’s pretty obvious.”

U.S. lotteries make up a more than $70 billion a year business. But ticket sales are off a third in some states compared to right before the coronavirus pandemic, and off more than 14 percent in Colorado.

“Lottery is a discretionary purchase and people don’t have as much discretionary income right now so it’s taking a chunk out of us,” said Tom Seaver, Colorado Lottery’s senior director. And that, he added,
could leave a mark on one of his state’s treasures.

The vast majority of lottery proceeds here directly benefit outdoor recreation and the environment. The nonprofit Great Outdoors Colorado devotes its 50 percent share to preserving and protecting wildlife, parks, rivers and open spaces.

“It ranges anywhere from trail construction, fence repair to wildlife habitat acquisition,” said Chris Castilian, Great Outdoors Colorado’s executive director. “Yeah for sure we’re going to see impacts.”

Castilian said a chunk of his money goes to local governments whose drop in sales tax revenues have put them in a bit of a bind.

“Do I keep my police department staffed or do I keep a park open and the trails clear and other kinds of decisions,” he said. “It’s going to put I think the outdoors at a significant disadvantage.”

“We would hate to see a decrease in the amount of parks that are acquired or wildlife that’s protected or playgrounds that are renovated,” Seaver said.

The reality is that fewer older people are going into stores these days to play the lottery. And because most of these games don’t accommodate credit cards, they aren’t a natural fit for young people because cash is not king for them.

It will be tough for the Colorado Lottery’s beneficiaries to match the $160 million in revenues they received last year. Its 3100 retail outlets could also lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in lottery commissions. It’s a reality beneficiaries like schools and other entities in other states will be grappling with going forward.

“There’ll be a great sigh of relief when people can go back to living their normal routines,” Seaver said. “If it included lottery tickets before, it probably will on the backside as well.”

Castilian hopes the lottery slump is relatively brief. Get outdoors, he urges people who are looking for an escape.
“And stop by your local retailer and buy a lottery ticket on the way,” he said laughing.