BRISTOL — Although the Hard Rock Casino opened on Friday, people have been playing the odds for 35 years with another legalized form of gambling: the Virginia Lottery.
The Virginia Lottery has been a regular feature of area stores since 1987, with scratch-off ticket displays, Powerball and Mega Millions game slips, and ticket vending machines. Over the past two years, games of skill – resembling casino slot machines with bright screens, consoles and padded chairs – have appeared in rows at the back and sides of many local convenience stores.
The lottery has weathered the pandemic era to varying degrees, according to spokesman John Hagerty. The pandemic caused a drop in scratch and raffle ticket sales in March and April 2020 when the then government emergency orders. Ralph Northam has imposed restrictions on the distance and number of people in retail stores.
The drop wasn’t just in ticket sales, Hagerty said, but was part of an overall drop in retail and gasoline sales at convenience stores — the main lottery sales sites.
“But sales rebounded soon after,” Hagerty said. “On July 1, 2020, the Virginia Lottery began online ticket sales.”
Online sales had been planned before the pandemic hit due to General Assembly legislation allowing the Virginia Lottery to enter that market, Hagerty said. Sales from online and physical sites both contributed to the increase in lottery sales in 2020 and 2021.
Vending machines – often found in supermarkets or discount stores like Walmart – have added to the options for lottery customers.
“A lot of consumers prefer self-service machines because of the control they have with these devices,” Hagerty said. “Retailers also prefer them because they’re useful when jackpots for Power Ball and Mega Millions get abnormally high and employees can be busy with people buying tickets.”
Border communities like Bristol and Northern Virginia generally benefit from out-of-state sales, Hagerty said. Commuters and out-of-state shoppers who come to Virginia often shop for gas and food and can purchase a scratch ticket or raffle ticket.
WHERE IS THE MONEY?
In Virginia, Hagerty said, all profits are directed by law to fund state education programs.
The publicity around the big Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots comes from the fact that they are multi-state draws that can support big jackpots, Hagerty said. Scratch tickets, however, are the lottery’s biggest source of revenue.
In Bristol, over the past three years, revenue from raffling tickets sold at physical venues has fallen from $1.14 million in 2019-20 to $1.39 million in 2020-21 and dropped to $1.13 million for most of 2021-22.
In the same three years in Bristol, scratch ticket sales grew from $5.45 million to $6.69 million and $6.18 million.
Across Bristol and Norton and Washington, Scott, Lee and Wise counties, drawing ticket sales rose from $6.82 million to $8.07 million and then to $6.81 million during of the last three fiscal years. Scratch ticket sales in the same region for the same periods increased from $32.82 million in 2019-20 to $39.94 million in 2020-21 and $36.88 million through June 21 of this year.
In the most recent monthly draw jackpot report in the same region, $18,100 was reported in April for prizes of $1,000 and above across all draw games in the lottery.
“Economic conditions have an impact,” Hagerty added. “When gas prices are high, however, we tend to see a drop in lottery sales at convenience stores.
“People sometimes have a misconception that lottery money goes directly to local schools or that’s what funds education,” Hagerty said. “The profits from the lottery make up about 10% of all government education funding every year, so it helps fund different things in the education budget.”
Lottery prizes unclaimed after 180 days go to the State Literacy Fund, which helps pay for school construction projects throughout Virginia. In 2021, that meant more than $10 million for projects, he added.
Since games of skill are currently unregulated in Virginia, the only visible clue as to how they should be used is a sign found on many machines stating that it is illegal for people under 18. years of playing it. As for the odds of playing them, many of these signs add, “The outcome of this game is not regulated by the state.”
Hagerty, whose duties include Virginia Lottery’s Play Responsibly program, said the organization works with the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling as well as the National Council on Problem Gambling to educate lottery players about problem gambling.
“We take ‘playing responsibly’ very seriously,” Hagerty said. “Some people may think that gambling addiction doesn’t exist and it’s about being responsible, but gambling addiction is real. The organizations we work with provide helplines and education services. Virginia Lottery also has a voluntary exclusion program where people can opt out of playing the lottery.
The Virginia Lottery also regulates sports betting in Virginia, and state code section 58.1-4039 prohibits placing or accepting bets on:
• Sports for young people
• University sports
• Virginia University Sports
Online sports betting began in Virginia in January 2021. According to the industry website legalsportsreport.com, bets totaled $4.98 billion from 2021 to April this year. Gaming operator revenues totaled $422.4 million during the same period, and Virginia recorded tax revenue of $29.8 million.
According to the latest Virginia Lottery sports betting report for April, Virginians bet $399.5 million and won $363.2 million that month with 12 licensed mobile betting operators – a 69% increase in betting compared to April 2021, when punters had access to seven licensed betting service operators.
Since last April’s sports gaming activity, gaming operators have made $20.8 million in adjusted gross revenue and the 15% state revenue tax was $3.04 million for the game. Status: $2.97 million in the general fund and $76,008.17 for lottery problem gambling treatment and support.
Mutual betting on horse racing is licensed and regulated in Virginia by the State Racing Commission. Colonial Downs Racecourse operated an off-track betting site in Weber City when the track closed.
The Weber City site is now a church.
A NEW WORLD
Hagerty said a 2019 study by the Joint Commission on Audit and Legislative Review of the General Assembly projected that five proposed casinos in Virginia — including Bristol — would give the state an estimated total of $260 million. annual tax revenue from gambling, compared to $600 million in annual revenue from the Virginia Lottery. The projected casinos would also generate around $970 million per year in net gambling revenue.
The Bristol casino is expected to pay the state $35 million a year in gambling tax with $130 million in annual net gambling revenue.
“We look forward to a new world with the opening of the casino,” added Hagerty.