Lottery jackpots are being reduced as the coronavirus crisis hits ticket sales

Covid-19 is taking a toll on lotteries, too.
Covid-19 is taking a toll on lotteries, too.
Image: Charles Mostoller/REUTERS
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Several US states have noticed a decline in lottery ticket sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With more people staying home, recent rule changes to reduce the jackpots for Powerball and Mega Millions may worsen the blow in the weeks ahead. States that reported a drop in lottery ticket sales this week include California, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Michigan, Maine, and Missouri.

The Powerball Product Group announced on April 2 that it would base its advertised jackpot on game sales and interest rates following the April 8 drawing. This will likely reduce the amount of winnings below the previously guaranteed minimum of $40 million. Similarly, the Mega Millions Consortium yesterday announced starting jackpots would be based on game sales and interest rates, as well, with no guaranteed minimum. Normally, both companies guarantee the amount of a starting jackpot, and raise the final amount based on future sales.

Iowa Lottery spokesperson Mary Neubauer confirmed earlier this week that the changes were a result of fewer people playing. “It truly has just reached a point where sales in the Powerball game, if we left the game as it was—we are not going to be able to continue to support the payment of jackpots and the other prizes,” Neubauer told Radio Iowa.

In Michigan, sales for the week of March 24 were down by 35% from the same period last year, reported the Detroit News. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order on March 24 for the state, which likely led to a drop in sales.

Allowing people to purchase lottery tickets online could reduce the blow. Currently, only seven US states permit that: Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Virginia.

But a shift to online ticket sales could also lead to more impulse purchases. In the UK, players can buy tickets for the National Lottery online and through a smartphone app. While the UK has yet to see a drop in ticket sales, it recently reduced the minimum amount for online purchases in an effort to stave off problematic gambling. The EU has also asked online casinos to refrain from referencing the pandemic in ads, and impose deposit limits and other safeguards.