States See Lottery Sales Take Rare Dip

Recession crimps this usually safe revenue stream
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2008 8:17 AM CST
Fred Topous, the latest Mega Millions jackpot winner, displays his lucky ticket on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 in Lansing, Mich. He took a lump sum payment of $33,989,267.    (AP Photo/Michigan Lottery)
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(Newser) – In good times and bad, state governments have relied on the lottery to bring in as much as $1 billion for education programs and other beneficiaries. But last quarter, sales of tickets fell by $215 million nationwide, only the second dip in 16 years. At a moment when states are contending with major budget shortfalls, reports the Wall Street Journal, the drying up of a once recession-proof stream of cash is taking its toll.

Lottery sales have gone up in previous downturns; people with gambling problems, who buy a substantial proportion of tickets, traditionally play more when times get tough. But in the current recession revenues have dried up quickly—in California, ticket sales have slumped by nearly 10%. Officials remain sanguine despite the downturn; as one said, "If they can buy gas or lottery tickets, bread or lottery tickets, they'll probably choose gas and bread."