State News

In tough economy, more turn to lottery

Posted September 17, 2008 8:34 a.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2008 6:57 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's lottery brought in 25 percent more money this week than it did the same time last year, leading some to worry that people are playing out of desperation in tough economic times.

The state lottery grossed $189 million in lottery sales in July and August, compared with $152 million in the same period last year.

Lottery executive director Thomas Shaheen said the higher payout that legislators approved for scratch-off, instant-winner games helped boost sales.

Others aren't sure. University researchers suggest that when economic times get tough, lotteries gain in popularity, according to The News & Record newspaper of Greensboro.

Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, a government watchdog group, said lottery sales across the country are going up as the economy struggles. He said that shows people who can least afford to play are losing more.

"It's always disturbing when lottery sales go up dramatically," Fitzsimon said. "When times are hard, people are even more desperate. Sadly, I think they're more likely to play the lottery."

Christal Kelly said she plays for fun, but she admitted that she plays more now that the economy is down and gas and food prices are up.

"I think it makes sense that people are putting a lot of their money in the lottery in hopes of winning big bucks," Kelly said.

Shaheen disagreed and said sales are hurt by economic downturns the same way as other goods and services that compete for people's discretionary spending.

"I think we could be growing at a greater rate than we are right now," he said, adding that players all know the lottery is a game with long odds of winning.

"As long as they do that responsibly and play within their means, it's just another form of entertainment," he said.

The state budget is banking on solid lottery sales. Lawmakers predicted a 17 percent increase over the last fiscal year when they wrote the budget.

If the lottery hits that mark, $385 million would go to public education.