Nation's State Lotteries Face Economic, Political Squeeze

By Arnold, Laurence | THE JOURNAL RECORD, April 20, 1999 | Go to article overview

Nation's State Lotteries Face Economic, Political Squeeze


Arnold, Laurence, THE JOURNAL RECORD


WASHINGTON -- After decades of remarkable growth, lottery sales are slipping because of competition from video gambling and casinos. For all the publicity surrounding winners of the biggest jackpots, 15 states recorded lower sales last year than in 1996.

Lotteries have been around longer than the American flag. In fact, the Virginia Company of London launched raffles in 1612 to raise money for the English colony in Jamestown. But King James I banned them nine years later.

For the most part, lotteries have flourished in this country since the late 1960s; 37 states and the District of Columbia now have them. Earlier this month, a Massachusetts babysitter won $197 million in the Big Game, the largest undivided pot ever. But 17 of the lotteries reported decreased sales in 1997, and 10 were down last year compared to 1997. Hailed as a pain-free alternative to taxes and derided as government-sponsored vice, lotteries are feeling the squeeze of market and political forces. Overall ticket sales grew by only 0.4 percent last year, the smallest increase since states introduced lotteries three decades ago, according to LaFleur's Lottery World, which tracks such statistics. Meanwhile, a national panel on gambling appears poised to call for restrictions on the types of innovation and promotion that states can use to pull their lotteries out of the doldrums. "It is a difficult time," said Terri LaFleur, who publishes the magazine that carries her name. "Sales are beginning to mature in a number of states, but many lotteries are not allowed to expand. As a result of other gambling opportunities out there -- casinos, video gaming machines at racetracks -- there is a lot of competition for gambling dollars." Nonexistent in the United States as recently as 1963, state lotteries had mushroomed into a $36 billion business by last year. The states and the nation's capital netted $12 billion last year and new lotteries are under consideration in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. However, there are signs that public interest is waning as states try to squeeze more profit out of the games. In Louisiana, for instance, lottery sales dropped for four straight years before rebounding in 1998. In Texas, sales dropped from $3. …

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