Sales of lottery tickets rise as economy falters

One dollar won't buy you a half-gallon of gas or milk, but it will buy you a draw in the Keno! lottery game. Poor economic news in Georgia and South Carolina correlates with an uptick in lottery ticket sales in both states, but lottery officials say entertainment, not hope for relief, is the reason.

 

The Georgia Lottery had a $97.6 million increase in sales over the previous fiscal year, bringing in $3.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That marked the highest sales in its 15-year history, according to lottery officials.

The South Carolina Educational Lottery also saw an increase in sales, from $988,158,152 in 2007 to $992,492,777 in the fiscal year ending June 30. That was the second-largest take since the lottery began in 2002.

Tandi Reddick, the media relations manager for the Georgia Lottery Corp., said the lottery, like any other business, is affected by the economy. If you ask whether a downturn in the economy caused more people to buy more lottery tickets, you could also ask whether sales would be higher if the economy were better, Ms. Reddick said.

"We offer an entertainment product," she said.

South Carolina Educational Lottery Executive Director Ernie Passailaigue attributed the state's lottery success to greater and broader appeal.

South Carolina had experienced a drop in sales in 2007 after North Carolina began its lottery the previous year.

Some people play the lottery even when prices of necessities such as gas and milk are rising because they feel behind financially, or feel their income isn't where it should be, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University.

Emily Haisley, the lead researcher on the study, said she can't deduce from the study whether people feeling the crunch from the economy has had an impact on lottery sales.

"I wouldn't predict that they drop," she said.

David Mustard, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia who has done research on the Georgia lottery, noted that the sales uptick is relatively small, 2.9 percent.

"What we've seen is a much slower (lottery sales) growth," he said. "Georgia is a fast-growing state."

Compared with the population growth, "the rate of (lottery) growth has dropped substantially," he said.

Mr. Passailaigue said the South Carolina lottery has seen lower sales in areas with poor populations, such as Allendale County.

Critics contend that primary players in state lotteries are poor, said Mark Thompson, an economics professor at Augusta State University.

"The probability of winning, obviously, is very small," he said.

The ones who play the most have the most to lose, Ms. Haisley said. Low-income individuals, with an income of $10,000 spend about 3 percent of their income on lottery tickets.

Because of the investment, Dr. Thompson said, those players who are poor might value it more.

"They may feel like that's their only chance of getting out of poverty," he said.

In downtown Augusta, Lotto Express owner Jennie Hope said she has seen a decrease in sales, particularly in the past three months. She attributes the fall to the rise in other prices.

Tina Thurmond, of North Augusta, has played the Georgia Lottery since 1993.

"I would like to get a financial gain, but I play it for fun," she said.

She said she limits herself to $20 per week, and uses discretionary funds. She comes over the river to buy tickets because South Carolina's lottery is younger and she thinks the Georgia Lottery pays out more.

Jerry Anderson, of Augusta, has played the same numbers for three years -- he's looking to catch up financially, he said, playing Mega Millions and Cash 4.

"I'm just looking for the payout," he said.

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.