Anti-Gambling Group Seeks Lottery Suspension

State lotteries are challenged as stimulus funds are distributed.

April 21, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—An anti-gambling organization, Stop Predatory Gambling, is calling for a suspension to gambling and lottery as millions of Americans begin receiving federal stimulus payments, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The organization plans to send letters to attorneys general and governors in 45 states and the District of Columbia requesting that lottery betting be temporarily halted until at least 30 days after stimulus payments have been received. State lotteries include jackpot drawings, scratch-off tickets and video lottery terminals.

According to Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, people spend money on the lottery in hopes of changing their financial condition. “Yet state government is continuing to market its lottery gambling games at the very same moment that citizens are receiving their economic relief checks from the U.S. Treasury,” he wrote in the letter, an early copy of which was shared with the Wall Street Journal.

Throughout the pandemic, lotteries have remained accessible, and convenience stores and gas stations, a major source of lottery gaming, have been deemed essential businesses. But lottery sales have taken a hit, and the multistate lotteries Mega Millions and Powerball are eliminating minimum jackpots.

When Americans spend money on the lottery right now, it defeats the purpose of the stimulus checks, which is to help needy families and encourage consumer spending in the broader economy, Bernal said.

About 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since the country began sheltering in place in March, and the federal government has started issuing one-time payments of up to $1,200 for each adult as part of an economic relief effort.

But large parts of the country are closed for business, and state lawmakers anticipate plummeting tax revenues. For that reason, voluntarily eliminating lottery revenue could be a tough sell to state governments. State lottery sales throughout the U.S. totaled nearly $76 billion in 2018, according to recent census data, and paid out nearly $49 billion in prizes.

Gordon Medenica, director of the Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency, dismisses the idea of suspending lotteries as an excuse for anti-gambling activists to push their agenda. The Maryland lottery generated $593 million for the state’s general fund from $2.2 billion in sales in the 2019 fiscal year. Other states dedicate lottery funds to specific uses like education.

“That’s the primary reason that lotteries exist, to make money for good causes,” Medenica said.