Iowa Lottery sales 'robust,' but national lotto games lag

Iowa Lottery CEO Matt Strawn (left) and Tom Vilsack hold a big check representing the former governor's winnings. (Photo
Iowa Lottery CEO Matt Strawn (left) and Tom Vilsack hold a big check representing the former governor’s winnings. (Photo supplied by Iowa Lottery).

CEDAR RAPIDS — COVID-19 has claimed another victim.

While sales of instant scratch games remain “robust,” Iowa Lottery CEO Matt Strawn is concerned that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a decline in revenue from national lotto games.

Powerball and Mega Millions, which once accounted for 23 percent of the Iowa Lottery’s sales, now amount to just 12 percent, Strawn told the Iowa Lottery board Tuesday.

“It’s a confluence of events, but certainly, the pandemic has had tremendous impact,” he said. As a result of the pandemic, players are making fewer trips to retail locations where they buy tickets and may be choosing to spend their money on other purchases.

“Jackpot fatigue,” the lack of larger jackpots that attract more players, also is a factor, Strawn said. The jackpots for Powerball and Mega Millions, which are available in 45 states and Washington, D.C., have tumbled during the coronavirus pandemic.

The estimated Mega Millions jackpot for Tuesday was $291 million alongside an estimated jackpot of $287 million for Powerball tonight.

That’s hardly puny, but those prizes pale in comparison to the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot in 2016 and $1.5 billion Mega Millions top prize in 2018 that had Iowans lining up to buy tickets.

COVID-19 is not solely to blame for lagging sales, which the Iowa Lottery began seeing in national lotto games before the pandemic, Strawn said. Lower interest rates lead to a lower, slower buildup as the prize pools roll over when there is no winner.


Also, he speculated that in an “instant gratification society, people don’t want to buy a ticket on Sunday and wait until Wednesday to find out if they’ve won.”

Strawn had good news for the board, too. Sales for the first four months of fiscal 2021 are running 19.6 percent ahead of projections and ahead of the same time last year. Instant scratch games, which account for 71 percent of all sales and “are the engine that drives the Iowa Lottery,” are running slightly ahead of record sales last year. Operating expenses are nearly 15 percent under budget for the first quarter.

Gross year-to-date sales are running $22 million ahead of budget, prize expenses are $18.2 million over projections and proceeds that will be returned to the state are $7.1 million higher than budgeted and $3.1 million higher than the five-year average.

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