May 15, 2020

An unusual bright spot in the gambling biz: People are itching for scratch-off tickets

With few other gambling options, the itch for instant gratification is powerful.

Photo by: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Here’s a nickel’s worth of good news for state-budget bean counters: We’re buying piles and piles of scratch-off tickets, according to Stateline.

For the week ending May 2, lottery sales in Texas hit $146m — one of the highest totals since January 2016. They were driven by an all-time increase in scratch-offs (up 24% from last year).

The itch for instant gratification is powerful

The gambling industry folded like a house of cards after the pandemic drove everyone into isolation, and it’s just now inching back to the blackjack table.

Wagering on sports is basically off the table, unless you fancy Korean baseball (running a solid 2nd in popularity to Russian ping-pong, says the sportsbook director at William Hill). 

Big multi-state games like Mega Millions and Powerball have reduced the size of jackpots with fewer players buying tickets.

There’s little left to do but grab your lucky penny and your Magic 8 Ball Bingo — and hope your lucky numbers match.

But does scratching relieve the itch?

Lottery critics and medical experts agree: Scratching won’t help, especially for people who are in rough financial shape. The critics say it’s no streak of dumb luck that the spike coincided with the arrival of people’s stimulus checks.

That said, the scratching frenzy does provide some relief for state budgets. In most cases, lottery revenues make up less than 2% of the pie — but these days, every dollar counts.

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