COVID-19 Calls for US States to Suspend All Lotteries for 30 Days

  • Stop Predatory Gambling proposing suspension period after citizens receive stimulus checks
  • Foundation to make request in a letter addressed to attorney generals, governors of 45 US states
  • Group director fears lower-income individuals will otherwise use funds to buy lottery tickets
  • State governments continue to market lottery gambling games amid COVID-19 crisis
  • Lottery officials believe suspensions are unlikely due to significant tax money generated
male hand marking number on lottery ticket with US dollars in the background
Stop Predatory Gambling is calling on all US states to suspend lotteries for at least 30 days after citizens receive their stimulus checks in light of the current crisis. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Fears stimulus money will be spent unwisely

The Stop Predatory Gambling foundation is planning to send letters to US governors and attorney generals asking them to suspend all lotteries for at least 30 days after citizens receive their government stimulus checks. The letters will address key officials in 45 US states as well as the District of Columbia.

Americans receiving $1,200 in stimulus checks amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis

Video lottery terminals, scratch-offs, and jackpot draws are all part of state lottery offerings. Les Bernal, the director of the anti-gambling group, said people buy lottery products to try to improve their financial health, particularly in desperate times. 

With Americans receiving $1,200 in stimulus checks amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, he fears the money will be spent on lottery products. This would defeat the idea of this financial aid, which is aimed at helping families and encouraging spending across the economy. 

Lotteries continuing to operate

An early draft of the letter was sent to the Wall Street Journal. Bernal wrote that the “state government is continuing to market its lottery gambling games at the very same moment that citizens are receiving their economic relief checks from the US Treasury.”

The likes of gas stations and convenience stores, being essential businesses, remain open despite the ongoing pandemic. These allow people to purchase lottery products. There are also six states where one can buy lottery tickets online. 

Despite this, a drop in lottery sales was observed since the outbreak of COVID-19. The two major multi-state lotteries, Powerball and Mega Millions, have both eliminated minimum jackpots for the foreseeable future.

Alaska, Hawaii, Alabama, Nevada, and Utah are the only US states that are currently without a lottery.

Likely opposition from states

Since the shutdown across the US kicked in during March, 22 million Americans have been looking for unemployment benefits. With tax revenues dropping across the board, state governments will likely not be willing to also cut lottery tax revenue by suspending these offerings. In 2018, lottery sales in the country totaled $76bn. 

state governments will likely not be willing to also cut lottery tax revenue

The Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency’s director, Gordon Medenica, spoke about the reason why state governments would not support the measure. He said lotteries exist in the country to support public programs such as education. 

The state lottery in Maryland has suspended advertising of its products in the current climate. The closures of bars and restaurants have seen lottery sales take a hit, and Medenica also estimates there has been a 30% drop in daily sales through convenience stores. Maryland lottery sales brought in $593m for the state government in 2019.

Reliance on lottery tickets

According to behavioral economics, lower-income individuals spend a higher portion of total income on lottery tickets than wealthier people. They buy lottery tickets because they need money, rather than for entertainment purposes.

According to Maine lottery data, a 1% rise in unemployment in a certain ZIP code leads to a 4.7% increase in lottery ticket sales in the area. David Just, a Cornell University behavioral economist, said: “This is the only way to preserve this dream of climbing out of poverty for some.”