Lottery Commission lowers revenue forecast


LITTLE ROCK — The state Lottery Commission on Wednesday adopted a revised budget forecast that lowers projected net proceeds for the current fiscal year from $89.5 million to $82.8.

Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said in presenting the revised forecast to the commission that disappointing revenue made the revision necessary. Scratch-off tickets in particular have seen a decline, he said, telling the panel that scratch-off sales for the first seven months of the fiscal year that began July 1 were down $15.4 million or 8 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

The lottery also pinned some of its hopes for the year on a raffle game that ended up losing $284,000 instead of turning a profit.

“We wanted to be as conservative and cautious as possible,” Woosley said. “Quite frankly, I hope we still make $89 (million). We’ll see. But we want to try and give numbers that are as accurate as possible.”

The Legislature has twice lowered the amounts of college scholarships funded by the lottery because of high demand for scholarships and declining lottery revenue.

Commissioner Bruce Engstrom of North Little Rock told Woosley, “It’s been my experience that when things don’t happen right … the companies that I’ve worked with that end up being the most successful over the long term are the ones that really get their shovels out and start digging ditches to figure out what they need to do to reverse this or to avoid this, to do a better job. I’m assuming that there’s that effort going on in the lottery.”

“Every day,” Woosley said.

Commissioner Mark Scott of Bentonville told Woosley, “Two years ago we were at $98.5 million as a budget, this year we were at $89.5 (million) and now at $82 (million). I’m concerned with what that number may be a year from now. I know that you realize the enormity of the situation we’re in and the trajectory we’re on. … (We would like) a wish list or some sort of direction from you as to what you would suggest to where we’re not sitting here a year from now looking at the 70s or the 60s.”

Woosley said he will present specific proposals to the commission. He said ideas that are being looked at include asking the Legislature to let retailers accept debit cards from ticket buyers if they choose, asking the Legislature for permission to offer monitor games and revising the bonding rules for lottery retailers to encourage more businesses to sell lottery tickets.

Woosley also said that Arkansas’ lottery ranks 16th among the 45 state lotteries in per capita sales, so it is still “a success story” in relation to other lotteries.

During a meeting Wednesday of the Lottery Commission’s Retail and Marketing Committee, members discussed the pros and cons of allowing ticket sales via debit card. The change would require legislative action because the current lottery law requires that tickets be purchased with cash.

Commissioner Doug Pierce of Jonesboro noted that retailers would have to pay transaction fees if they began accepting debit cards. Commissioner Mark Scott of Bentonville countered that “the reality is that a lot of people aren’t playing now that would play if we have debit cards, so retailers would be getting 5 percent commissions that they aren’t getting now.”

During a meeting Wednesday of the Lottery Commission’s Vendor Committee, Woosley said he could not pinpoint exactly why the Million Dollar Raffle, which experienced problems but eventually sold out of tickets when it was offered the first time, was a failure in its second outing last year.

“In the future we may want to seriously consider whether or not we want to enter into these kinds of seasonal, short-term or niche games,” he said. “Even if … it would have sold out or sold to meet our expectations, based on what it took away from our emphasis on our instant and or other online games and our bread and butter, so to speak, we don’t know that it’s worth it to do these types of games.”