The leap came after a month of plunging sales, presumably due to the sputtering pandemic economy, in which revenues had dropped compared to
the same periods in 2019. The April 18 weekly figures, by comparison,
outpaced the same week in 2019 by more than $15 million - a 16 percent
To some, however, the precise timing of the dramatic revenue jump in the midst of a crashing economy signaled terrible news — that instead
of spending their government relief checks on food, utilities and rent,
Texans appeared to be using their personal stimulus payments of up to
$1,200 on state-sponsored gaming.
“It’s an incredible perversion of what the stimulus checks are supposed to be for,” said Les Bernal, director of the Washington
D.C.-based Stop Predatory Gambling.The nonprofit organization had
anticipated the bump. On Monday, it asked governors in 45 states with
lotteries, including Gov. Greg Abbott, to halt the games for a month
while the pandemic stimulus checks were distributed. With casinos
shuttered because of mass gathering prohibitions, Bernal warned that
state lotteries, which have continued operating as essential businesses,
would see swelling sales as the relief payments started arriving in
In Texas, Dawn Nettles, who has been watchdogging the state lottery since 1992 through her Lotto Report, said she, too, had expected the
sales surge ever since the stimulus program was announced in late March.
She said she feared that habitual players would treat the money like
income tax refunds, whose arrival typically gooses spring lottery sales.
Nettles said she started hearing from convenience store clerks early last week that their sales of instant scratch tickets were soaring. “To
sell $111 million in one week in the middle of a pandemic, during a
stay-at-home order, is incredible,” she said.The fear that Texas
taxpayers are spending money intended to sustain them through the
economic shut-down caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the
state-sponsored lottery could yet turn out to be unfounded. The Texas
lottery’s sales jump represents only one week and may prove to be a
In a written response to questions, lottery spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said the agency was keeping an eye on its sales figures:
“Overall during this period, lottery sales have taken a slight downturn
when comparing this year to last year, and the agency will continue to
closely monitor the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on lottery sales.
The health and safety of all remains our top priority.”
But critics of the state-sponsored games say that by maintaining the opportunity for people to spend their federal support payments on
lottery tickets, state governments that continue to sell and promote
their games are helping defeat the purpose of the bailout.
“Federal tax dollars are being sent to American families in order to put food on the table, make rent or mortgage payments, or provide for
other daily necessities - not to subsidize state lotteries,” Bernal’s
letter to the governors stated.
In an interview, he also noted that the stimulus payments, structured to give more money to people who earn less, are an
unfortunately perfect complement to lotteries, which studies have shown
get a disproportionate amount of their money from those who can least
afford to play.The Texas lottery, like others, has said it does not
target any particular demographic, and that people from all income
levels play the games. Yet studies, including those commissioned by the
agency itself, have consistently shown that the poor tend to play the
games more often and spend more money than high-income players.