Connecticut residents bought lottery tickets in record numbers during the 2021 fiscal year, reflecting a national trend of soaring pandemic lottery sales as the state’s quasi-public agency prepares a vast expansion of its operation.
The Connecticut Lottery Corporation boasted $1.5 billion in sales during the fiscal year that ended June 30 and sent $418 million to the state coffers. Both numbers represent the highest postings since Connecticut launched its lottery program in 1972. For comparison, Connecticut lottery sales grew 15% over 2020, when the corporation reported $1.3 billion in revenue.
It is hardly an anomaly. Lottery agencies around the country have been reporting record-breaking years or double-digit increases in revenue. Surging sales have made news in Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska to name a few.
It is difficult to parse exactly what has driven more Americans to try their luck on lottery games during the pandemic. Rob Simmelkjaer, chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors, said Tuesday it could be attributable to infusions of disposable income from federal stimulus payments or the inaccessibility of other types of entertainment during lockdown periods.
“People who used to go to a casino, play the slots or table games or things like that were staying closer to home. They were not interested in being in group settings or public spaces like casinos. They may have just shifted their gaming activity to lotteries,” Simmelkjaer said. “There are different theories on it, but it’s all speculation no matter what you say.”
Some states expect the surge in lottery sales to be temporary. In Florida, where May sales were up 23% over the prior year, state budget officials forecasted that the pandemic-driven boost in revenue will drop off after another couple months, according to Florida Trend.
For now, Connecticut sales are still going strong. As of Monday, Simmelkjaer said big jackpots on multistate games like Powerball and Mega Millions drove sales roughly 50% higher than they were at this point last year. Meanwhile, sales on another multistate game, Lucky for Life, were running about 66% higher, year-to-date. And although some state draw games were posting more modest gains and daily numbers were down slightly, Simmelkjaer said CT Lottery seemed on course for another banner year.
Meanwhile, a landmark expansion of the state’s legal gambling offerings approved during the legislative session will enable the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to sell its lottery tickets online soon — and makes the quasi-public agency a major player in the state’s new sports betting arena.
The new law signed by Gov. Ned Lamont in May gave the lottery, along with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations which run casinos in Connecticut, license to run sports betting operations in the state.
Late last month, the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee approved emergency regulations for sports betting drafted by the Consumer Protection Department to get the new marketplace off the ground early in this year’s National Football League season.
Sports betting is tentatively scheduled to go live in Connecticut on Oct. 7. The Mashantuckets’ Foxwoods casino has contracted with DraftKings and the Mohegans have contracted with FanDuel to manage their sportsbooks. The lottery, meanwhile, has partnered with Rush Street Interactive and plans to offer integrated products and cross-promotions between the lottery and Rush Street’s SugarHouse brand.
Simmelkjaer was reluctant Tuesday to estimate how the lottery’s expansion would factor into the corporation’s returns for the next fiscal year. Although he expected to launch sports betting in early October, he said it would be well into next year before the operation was in a satisfactory place.
“Really by the start of next football season is when I think our marketing, our brand, our retail will be where we want it to be,” he said. “I’ve got limited expectations for the first six months but very high expectations starting fall of 2022.”
In the meantime, online lottery sales have taken a backseat to sports betting. CT Lottery has issued a request for proposals for iLottery tech platforms. Simmelkjaer guessed online lottery tickets may be available sometime in 2022. Over time, he said the new platform would likely increase lottery sales.
“What you’ve seen [in states with online lottery sales] is boosts, but not overnight huge boosts. It’s hard to have a huge boost overnight of a business that’s doing the kind of numbers that these lotteries are already doing,” Simmelkjaer said.