Iowa Lottery looks to record-smashing year

in Lottery

DES MOINES — The Iowa Lottery is on track to break several yearly records when it closes the fiscal year Sunday.

Marks for sales, proceeds to state causes, prizes paid to players and commissions to its retailers are all likely to fall, with gamblers’ zeal for instant scratch tickets outpacing that for mega-lotto jackpots.

The first product offered when the Iowa Lottery set up shop in 1985 was a scratch game, and lottery officials say scratch tickets have been their leading category ever since. Year-to-date sales through May total $230 million — by far the largest sales category.

With sales fueled by a rotating crop of new games and promotions at 2,400 retail outlets, the Iowa Lottery is on track to smash the record $371 million in sales posted last fiscal year and top the $88 million in proceeds deposited in the state treasury three years ago.

“At this point it appears that we are on track to have a record year in all of the lottery’s major categories,” said Mary Neubauer, the lottery’s vice president for external relations. “It has been a good year really across the board.

A relatively stable economy has given Iowans the disposable income to spend on lottery tickets, she noted. However, lottery officials remain concerned they need to “modernize” with online products.

“We know that long term the trends that are out there mean that these numbers won’t hold forever into the future,” she said. “We need to plan for the future now while we’re in good shape.”

Luck was on the lottery’s side during the fiscal year that started last July 1, when jackpots in Powerball and Mega Millions climbed to dizzying heights.

The Mega Millions jackpot climbed to $1.54 billion before it was won Oct. 23 with a ticket purchased in South Carolina. Meanwhile, the Powerball jackpot had reached $687.8 million when it was split in the drawing Oct. 27 by two tickets purchased in Iowa and New York.

“That jackpot phenomenon is unpredictable,” Neubauer said. “We never know when the jackpot is going to be big and when the next big one will hit, but certainly that made a big difference in our FY 2019 results.”

With a month remaining in fiscal 2019, the lottery already had achieved $361.4 million in sales while proceeds topped $87 million — both on pace to close in record territory next week.

Also, prizes to players through May had topped $222 million, closing in on the record of $227.5 million set last fiscal year, and sales commissions to lottery retailers exceeded $23.5 million through May — approaching the record of $24.6 million set in fiscal 2016, Neubauer noted.