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."