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Lottery Sales Crater During Pandemic

Launderland, a store in Westminster, specializes in lottery tickets. (Susanica Tam for KPCC)
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Most months, Primm Valley Lotto sells $1 million or more in lottery tickets. The store, located in a shopping center just inches from the Nevada state line, caters to Nevadans pulling in off Interstate 15 from their state, one of the few without a lottery.

But the days of long lines and massive sales are on hold. In April, Primm Valley Lotto reported just $33,400 in lottery sales -- a decline from $2 million in April 2019.

And Primm Valley Lotto is far from alone: The California Lottery's sales have plunged amid the global pandemic, as residents are staying home, losing work and postponing buying scratchers and Powerball tickets.

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The California Lottery sold $492 million in tickets in April, according to agency data provided to LAist. That number may sound large, but it represents a significant decline from just three months earlier, when lottery players snapped up $696 million in tickets.

In fact, April was the worst month for the agency in the last two calendar years.


"While the current COVID-19 public health emergency negatively impacted Lottery sales by an estimated 25-30% through the first month or so, the past several weeks have seen an increase in sales of Scratchers tickets," Lottery spokesman Jorge De La Cruz told us.

Essential businesses that sell lottery tickets, including grocery stores, laundromats and liquor stores, have continued to offer draw games and scratchers to the public.

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"The lottery, I think overall it's getting slower," said Randy Chung, who owns Launderland in Westminster. Chung was speaking from behind a plastic shield he recently installed to keep himself safe. His modest Orange County laundromat is one of the state's biggest lottery retailers.

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Chung said he'd noticed scratchers have become more popular in recent weeks. The decline has been in draw games, one of which typically attracts customers who mill around, chatting, as they follow the results that come in every four minutes.

Randy Chung, the owner of Launderland, photographed in 2018. (Susanica Tam for KPCC)

The statewide slowdown in lottery sales could affect school spending in the coming fiscal year. The lottery is a state agency; lottery money supports education, and the decline in revenue will translate into less money for schools, colleges and universities. However, even in boom times, the lottery accounts for a tiny fraction of education funding in California: around 1% of total K-12 funds, according to the California Department of Education.

We reported in 2018 that, while lottery sales had skyrocketed, very little of that additional revenue went to fund schools; instead, most of the money was being plowed back into ever-larger jackpots.

Lottery funding is "toilet paper money," one education official told us. Still, in a devastating budget shortfall, every dollar helps.

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Our reporting also showed that lottery sales -- a money-loser for nearly all who play -- are disproportionately high in poor areas, communities with a plurality of Asian-Americans, and across Southern California.