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More People Buying Lottery Tickets Despite Recession

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More People Buying Lottery Tickets Despite Recession

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More People Buying Lottery Tickets Despite Recession

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Some people are always willing to try their luck, and that may be the lesson of this next story.

The economic downturn has forced people to cut back. Some eat out less. Some are a little more careful with their credit cards. But as NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, the lottery is one industry that is just about recession-proof.

KATHY LOHR: At a gas station and convenience store off Roswell Road in Atlanta, many here say they play the lottery occasionally but not every week. Rick Hankin says more people he knows are buying tickets, in spite of the recession.

Mr. RICK HANKIN: As a matter of fact, it's ironic because my mom, her house was being foreclosed on, and she was, you know, buying more lottery tickets than she normally bought. And I was like, you know, snap out of it. But we got her house taken care of.

LOHR: Nationally, lottery sales were up $1 billion over the last year.

(Soundbite of lottery machine)

LOHR: At another convenience store, many breeze in and out to buy quick picks or scratch-off tickets. Saran Phillips says the higher the jackpot, the more she plays.

Ms. SARAN PHILLIPS: Because I want to win.

LOHR: So do you feel like someday, you'll...

Ms. PHILLIPS: I feel like someday, I'll walk in there and get that ticket and not pass out when I find out I won. And the rest: woo-hoo, shopping spree, maybe a house, possibly a business.

LOHR: That goal of making it rich is one reason most state lotteries have held steady or shown revenue increases. Arkansas just began its lottery and has far exceeded projections. The state estimated it would take in half a million dollars a day but instead is raking in more than twice that.

Julie Baldridge is a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.

Ms. JULIE BALDRIDGE (Spokeswoman, Arkansas Scholarship Lottery): We estimate that conservatively, about $100 million in Arkansas money was already going out of state to lotteries. So that money, we believe, has come home.

LOHR: More than half the states are now selling multi-state lottery tickets, including Mega Millions and Power Ball games. And that has increased sales as more people are lured by the chance to win a huge jackpot.

Mr. DAVID GALE (North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries): The jackpot games are extremely popular, and that's the lotto games.

LOHR: David Gale is with the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have lotteries, and he says people are still playing the games even during the recession.

Mr. GALE: They probably have less discretionary dollars left over at the end of their budget. So they're probably looking for cheaper forms of entertainment. Lottery tickets typically cost a dollar. The other reason is because it's such an inexpensive product that it's probably not one of the first things that's cut from their regular monthly budget.

LOHR: Gale also says most people approve of lotteries because they provide billions of dollars to state budgets and to retailers, who receive commissions.

He says last year, $60 billion was returned to states, which are all facing stiff budget deficits and looking for ways to raise money.

But not all lotteries are doing well. In West Virginia, total lottery revenue was down about 10 percent in the latest budget year. Officials there blame the recession and competition from video lotteries in surrounding states.

Nikki Orcutt is with the West Virginia Lottery.

Ms. NIKKI ORCUTT (West Virginia Lottery): A few years ago, neighboring jurisdictions didn't have casino gambling, if you will, or the video lottery gambling. Once casinos started to come up in our neighboring jurisdictions, obviously people didn't have the need to travel anymore. They had those gaming activities right there in their own backyard.

LOHR: West Virginia expects lottery revenues to continue to decline this year.

In Georgia, the lottery is doing well, and provided $884 million for the state in the past year for college scholarships and pre-K programs. Even during the recession, states continue to add lottery games and look for new ways to promote them.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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