November 28, 2008 / 1:27 PM / 10 years ago

Americans shun lotteries in times of trouble

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. lottery tickets are proving not to be the big business they’re cracked up to be in times of financial crisis.

Reuters contacted all 42 state lotteries. Of the 27 that responded, 14 said sales were down from last year, 9 said sales were steady and 4 reported an increase.

“It’s been kind of an industry notion that lotteries are recession-proof, but I think what we’re experiencing right now is a little bit harsher than slow economies in the past,” said Chuck Baumann of the Oregon Lottery.

“People are just counting their dollars and cents,” he said in a state where sales are down some 2 percent from last year.

Lotteries are the most common form of gambling in the United States, Gallup opinion polls regularly find, showing that almost 50 percent of Americans buy lottery tickets.

Sales have fallen as much as 10 percent in some states — a reflection of the economic downturn and lack of a big jackpot in the two main games, Powerball and Mega Millions.

“What we have found with lotto tickets is that they are heavily dependent on the jackpots offered,” said Mike Mueller of the South Dakota Lottery, where sales are down 6 percent.


By this time last year jackpots of several hundred million dollars had already been won in Mega Millions, played in 12 states, and Powerball, played in 31 states. The biggest Powerball win was $365 million in 2006, while Mega Millions paid out a record jackpot of $390 million in 2007.

In Kansas, lottery ticket sales are down about 4 percent in the last few months, spokeswoman Sally Lunsford said.

One reason is that convenience stores have gone out of business, meaning fewer places selling tickets, she said.

The most recent North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries data show that more than $57 billion in tickets were sold in the United States in fiscal year 2006, which for most states ended on June 30, 2006.

Nickie Andrews, 30, who recently returned home to Hoboken, New Jersey, after traveling overseas and is looking for a job, bought a Mega Millions ticket at New York City’s Port Authority bus station for the chance to win $86 million.

“When it gets big I usually play,” she said. “I don’t have a job right now and I have been playing the lottery more ... it’s hard and I need money. I used to play every couple of months, now I have been playing it every other week or so.”

Pennsylvania lottery spokeswoman Stephanie Weyant said economic uncertainty was holding many players back.

“In general, our players have told us that they are spending less on tickets because they are concerned about the economy,” Weyant said.

Editing by Howard Goller

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