The Georgia Lottery’s March sales came in at 17.2% below projections, leaving the corporation with a deficit of more than $85.6 million for the month.

Georgia Lottery sales down in March, but more people are playing online

The Georgia Lottery saw its revenue dwindle in March amid economic uncertainty and fears over the coronavirus, though more people appear to be playing online.

The corporation’s March sales came in at 17.2% below projections, leaving the state’s lottery system with a deficit of more than $85.6 million for the month, Georgia Lottery spokeswoman Tandi Reddick said. 

Lottery officials initially expected to collect nearly $497 million in revenue last month, but only ended up with about $411.2 million.

“As with any business, the economy impacts our sales,” Reddick said in a statement. “When economic conditions change, spending habits change. The economy impacts our business as it does other organizations that offer entertainment products.”

The sharp decline in ticket sales nationwide has prompted both Mega Millions and Powerball officials to reconfigure how those jackpot sizes are calculated.

With businesses shuttering as local and state officials look to quell the spread of COVID-19, the Georgia Labor Department said Thursday that it processed 133,820 claims for unemployment benefits last week. It was the largest number of claims ever processed in a single week and more than 10 times the previous week’s number.

RELATED: Georgia jobless claims skyrocket on virus closings

As discretionary spending dropped last month, the Georgia lottery reported that March 2020 ticket revenue was about $68 million less than in March 2019, a decrease of 14.2%, according to figures released this week.

But with more people staying home, the Georgia Lottery is seeing a significant increase in the number of tickets purchased online. Internet and mobile ticket sales in March were up about 31% since last year, from $8.5 million in March 2019 to $11.1 million last month, according to the latest data. 

Purchasing tickets on the Georgia Lottery website is relatively easy, and funds can be transferred from a debit card or checking account into an online “iHOPE” account that is used to play. Winnings of up to $600 are then deposited directly into that account. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, lottery officials have made changes to how Georgians who play in person are able to collect their winnings.

The corporation announced last week that claim centers at Georgia Lottery’s Atlanta headquarters, kiosks in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and district offices across the state would be closed until further notice as the majority of its employees work from home. 

MORE: Report says Georgia’s economy is the least exposed to coronavirus. Why that may be changing

Prizes of $600 or less can still be claimed at lottery retailers such as gas stations and supermarkets, however, and all prizes can be claimed by mail by sending winning tickets to: Georgia Lottery Corp., P.O. Box 56966, Atlanta, GA 30343. The deadline to claim prizes has been extended for tickets that expired between March 18 and whenever claim centers reopen, officials said.

With fewer people playing the lottery across the U.S., both Powerball and Mega Millions officials have made changes to how much money can be won by eliminating starting jackpot amounts and minimum increases between drawings. Instead, both jackpots will be determined by interest rates and the number of tickets sold. 

In response to slowing sales, The Mega Millions Consortium announced Friday that starting jackpots and increases will be determined “on a drawing-by-drawing basis.”

Friday evening’s Mega Millions jackpot is $121 million. If someone wins, it will be reset to $20 million on April 7, officials said. If there is no winner Friday evening, the jackpot will roll to an annuitized $127 million. 

Immediately following Friday’s drawing, the next jackpot and the rate at which it increases will be determined based on game sales and interest rates, with no fixed minimum amount, officials said. The jackpot will be determined and announced prior to each drawing. Previously, the Mega Millions jackpot started at $40 million, and increased by at least $5 million each time it rolled over.

“The value of the Mega Millions jackpot is based on projected sales, and typical sales patterns have been altered because the current health crisis has required people to stay home,” said Gordon Medenica, director of the Mega Millions Consortium. “We are concerned, first and foremost, with everyone’s health and well-being. Meanwhile, these adjustments will allow the states and jurisdictions that sell Mega Millions tickets to continue generating much-needed revenue to support state budgets.”

Starting Wednesday, guaranteed jackpots and minimum increases for the Powerball will also be eliminated, and future amounts will be determined by overall ticket sales.

“Since last week, more states and cities have asked their residents to stay at home, which has affected normal consumer behaviors and Powerball game sales,” Powerball chairman Gregg Mineo said in a statement. “In response to the public health crisis, interest rates have declined. As a result, additional game sales are necessary to fund comparable jackpot amounts.”

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