Drop In Massachusetts Lottery Sales Gaining Speed

BOSTON (State House News Service) — The coronavirus pandemic has taken a significant bite out of Massachusetts Lottery sales as restaurants and bars are closed and fewer people make regular trips to their local convenience store, shrinking the market for the cash-only products.

"As the month of March has developed and the situation in the public has continued to manifest itself, you do see a significant drop-off pretty much across the board on all products," Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney told the Lottery Commission during a virtual meeting Tuesday morning. He said the first full week of March was the last relatively normal week for Lottery sales.

In the second week of March, total Lottery sales were down $1.4 million or just more than 1 percent over the first week of the month. The third week saw sales drop $22.9 million, or 20.6 percent, compared to the first week of March. And the fourth full week of March saw sales that were $32.7 million, or 29.3 percent, lower than the first week of the month, Sweeney told the commission.

Scratch tickets and Keno, which account for roughly 69 percent and 20 percent of the Lottery's daily revenues respectively, have seen the harshest drops. Scratch ticket sales were down about 24 percent between the first and last weeks of March, and Keno sales were down 52 percent, Sweeney said. From March 22 to March 28, the Lottery sold $57.8 million worth of scratch tickets, the lowest total for that week in the last 15 years.

Some Lottery retailers like grocery stores and convenience stores remain open, but far fewer people are making regular trips out and Lottery products cannot be purchased online, a restriction that the Legislature has kept in place despite calls over the years for it to be lifted. Though Keno can be played at some convenience stores, the bars and restaurants that host the game are all closed.

The pandemic and the corresponding drop in consumer activity is affecting lotteries around the country, and Sweeney on Tuesday explained a change coming to the multi-state Powerball game.

Whenever the next Powerball jackpot is hit -- it currently stands at $170 million for Wednesday night's drawing -- the prize will not reset to $40 million as it typically does. Instead, it will reset to a guaranteed $20 million annuity, Sweeney said.

And instead of the Powerball jackpot increasing by at least $10 million for each drawing until a jackpot is won, the prize pool will grow by just $2 million. Sweeney said the Multi-State Lottery Association that runs Powerball made the decision due to "decreased sales in most lottery products across the country and out of an abundance of caution and a concern of being able to actually cover the jackpots."

Massachusetts is a participating, but non-voting, member of the association, and Sweeney said "we really have no choice but to follow these new guidelines." The commission voted unanimously to authorize Sweeney to agree to the change and commissioners agreed that it sounded like a sound decision.

"I have a feeling that you could see a similar type of action by the MegaMillions group," Sweeney said. "They have had discussions along a similar type of line. They have not yet made that decision however, so this is strictly concerning Powerball at this time."

Typically, Sweeney would have used his presentation at the March commission meeting to detail February sales and revenue data. That portion of his presentation was more of a footnote Tuesday, though the Lottery reported a pretty good February -- sales were up $4.4 million over February 2019 and the estimated profit for February 2020 was up $5.6 million over February 2019.

So far, with four months left in the fiscal year, the Lottery is running $38.7 million behind its profit mark from last fiscal year.

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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