Credit: Tom Sherwood

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The coronavirus is doing a number on the D.C. Lottery.

Lottery officials say compared to last year, sales have dropped steadily in the past three weeks. Sales dropped 10.5 percent three weeks ago and 22.5 percent last week. 

“Sales have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” says spokesperson Nicole Jordan in an email to City Paper about the unaudited numbers. “The decline is a combination of the pandemic and a lower jackpot amount.” She says multi-state games for Powerball and Mega Millions “are down significantly from this time last year.” To date, the D.C. Lottery has seen a 45.34 percent decline in Powerball sales and 59.32 percent decrease in Mega Million sales. 

The virus is having an effect because potential players have less money to gamble, are staying home as directed, and many sales outlets are closed or have restricted hours, one official said. The sharp drop in sales accounts for millions in lost revenue. City Paper first reported last month that the District’s anticipated online sports betting app also has been delayed indefinitely, costing the District even more in lost revenue.

Jordan, the lottery’s director of marketing and communications, says city lottery officials are “developing creative products and promotions to generate entertainment revenue,” although details are not yet public.

The lost revenues add to the burden for Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council as they address a $607 million dollar drop in overall revenues because of the pandemic. Bowser must submit a revised budget in May for the last half of Fiscal Year 2020, which ends September 30. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt says an equal amount may be slashed from the 2021 budget that is also under consideration now. FY 2021 begins October 1. 

The sharp drop in revenues comes as gambling—at least among daily numbers players—has been dropping steadily. In 2001, after prizes and fees paid to vendors, the lottery dumped $84 million into the city treasury. By FY 2019, that amount had been cut nearly in half, to $45 million, despite many new scratch off games.

Since its inception in 1983, lottery revenues have added more than $4 billion dollars to city coffers. That’s after about 55 percent of lottery money is paid out to winners. Commercial vendors that sell tickets receive a 5 percent fee for each ticket sold. For winning numbers claimed by players, a vendor gets a four percent payment for instant tickets and three percent for online tickets paid. If a vendor sells a Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot ticket, the vendor receives $25,000. 

It sounds good, but, as one vendor said, you have to have customers to sell anything. 

This post has been updated with details about drops in Powerball and Mega Millions sales.

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