Published: March 28, 2020

Odds are, coronavirus will crimp Pennsylvania lottery fund, which could hurt programs for seniors

With a stay-at-home order in effect for Lehigh, Northampton and 17 other Pennsylvania counties, state lottery officials are reporting declines in ticket sales, as the coronavirus pandemic keeps players from leaving their homes.

While Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown of nonessential businesses doesn’t affect all lottery retailers, — grocery stores and beer outlets are among those still open — fewer lottery customers are coming through their doors. And unless sales pick up, programs funded by the lottery could be affected.c

Bob Mickus, who owns Beerco on Lehigh Street in Allentown, has watched his overall sales slip in the past few weeks. And those customers who do venture out to stock up on alcohol are reluctant to take their chances on a lottery ticket.

“I’ve had a lot of customers buy five or six cases of beer. They’re planning on hunkering down, and I don’t blame them,” Mickus said. “I’m not seeing a lot of lottery players.”

Raj Patel, who owns Happy Dairy Market at Sixth and Turner streets in Allentown, is still seeing his regular customers who rely on his shop for essential goods like bread and milk.

“Neighbors tell me: Please don’t close,” said Patel, adding that business has been slow. “It’s scary. It’s a risky time.”

Patel says he’s only selling about 10 lottery tickets per day. He would not disclose the number of tickets he sells in a typical day, however, saying only that he sells more.

Pennsylvania Lottery sales in March are down compared to last year, according to Ewa Dworakowski, lottery press secretary.

“Lottery sales typically rise and fall with retail,” Dworakowski said. “Because of this fact, we are seeing our traditional sales soften a bit during this unprecedented situation.

“However, many essential businesses, such as grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies, are also lottery retailers and remain open,” she added.

Shrinking lottery jackpots will no doubt be discouraging to players. The Powerball jackpot sits at $160 million, but the next jackpot will likely be tens of million dollars smaller.

The group that oversees the Powerball game announced Wednesday that it would cut minimum jackpots in half, from $40 million to $20 million, after there is a winner of the current big prize.

The other national lottery game, Mega Millions, is considering a similar move.

Lottery sales generated $1 billion in state revenue in 2019, and about 25% of that went toward programs to benefit older Pennsylvanians, including property tax and rent rebates, free and reduced-fare transportation services, low-cost prescription drug programs and local services provided by Area Agencies on Aging.

Dworakowski said it’s too early to speculate what kind of impact a sustained dip in sales would have on these programs, but some economic experts have already said that the Pennsylvania Lottery is poorly equipped to deal with a financial crisis.

In Massachusetts, the state agency that tracks lottery revenue reported $1.3 million in losses between March 8 and 14 compared with the previous week. In New York, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli estimates tax revenue for 2020 will be $4 billion below projections as gaming receipts from video-lottery facilities and casinos continue to decline.

Dworakowski said lottery players can still take advantage of online games at, where players can purchase Powerball and Mega Millions tickets without having to leave their homes.

Lottery officials caution that the drop in ticket sales doesn’t change the long-shot odds of winning a big jackpot. For Powerball, the odds are 1 in 292.2 million, and for Mega Millions they’re 1 in 302.6 million.

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