Lottery sales headed for second consecutive decline

Georgia lottery ticket sales likely will be down again for the fiscal year that ends on Thursday, marking the first time sales have declined for two years in a row and signaling clearly that the games aren’t immune to the state’s stagnant economy.

This year’s decline probably will amount to between $30 million and $40 million — about twice last year’s drop of $18 million, Lottery Board Chairman James Braswell told the AJC. (Final figures won’t be available until after the fiscal year ends.)

Blame the price of gasoline.

“Not only do high gas prices make us cut discretionary spending, but a lot of lottery tickets are purchased at gas stations,” said Roger Tutterow, an economist at Mercer University. “The number of visits doesn’t change, but once they have had a good part of their income pumped [into their car], it probably takes away their appetite for lottery tickets.”

The declines in ticket sales are relatively small, considering that the Lottery Corp. sells $3.6 billion a year in tickets.

Even though ticket sales fell last year, the lottery’s contribution to the HOPE scholarship and to pre-kindergarten programs actually went up slightly. That may not be the case this year.

Before last year, the lottery had increased sales every year but one since the games started in 1993. Through economic slow-downs and boom years, Georgians bought lottery tickets, and lots of them.

“It has been remarkable to see the constant growth,” Braswell said.

But Braswell said flat or limited growth is again expected next fiscal year.

Joan Schoubert, the Lottery Corp.’s senior vice president for finance, planning and development, said it is not necessarily that fewer people are playing. They are just spending less.

“The quantity of players hasn’t gone down. The amount [of money] they have to play has gone down.”

Robert Jimenez, who was pumping gas Tuesday at a Sandy Springs BP station, said he doesn’t play the lottery much.

“I don’t think I am going to win, so I don’t spend my money on the lottery,” he said.

Anthony Blake of Atlanta, who was also at the BP, has played the big-money Power Ball at times. But he said, “Because times are hard, I don’t want to gamble my few dollars.”

How the lottery does is vitally important to the popular HOPE scholarship and pre-k programs. The cost of the programs has exploded in recent years — particularly in the case of HOPE.

More and more students are eligible for the scholarships, and tuition at public colleges — which is paid for HOPE scholars — has continued to increase.

Lottery officials have warned lawmakers for years not to count on ever-rising lottery ticket sales to keep up with the growth of HOPE. Legislators during the 2011 session passed a law cutting the program’s benefits in hopes of keeping it solvent.

Staff writer Elise Hitchcock contributed to this article.