The Arkansas Lottery Commission has revised downward its revenue estimate for the current year, from $89.5 million to $82.8 million.
Higher education officials are paying close attention to the negative trend because revenue from lottery tickets is the financial foundation for the popular Academic Challenge Scholarship Program. If the decline continues, the amounts of college scholarships may have to be lowered.
The decline in sales has been in scratch off tickets. Those tickets generally pay smaller prizes but consumers know immediately whether or not they have won. Last month sales of scratch off tickets went down by 20 percent, to $24.8 million. For the first seven months of the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 2013, sales are down $15.4 million from the same period the previous fiscal year.
Sales of lottery tickets for enormous prizes, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, actually went up last month. For the first seven months of this fiscal year those sales are $7.2 million above the same period of the previous year.
The legislature has twice had to restructure scholarship amounts in response to declining lottery sales, which used to be closer to $100 million a year. Lottery commissioners voiced concern that sales appear to be heading downward toward $70 million a year.
The Lottery Commission is studying possible methods to boost lottery sales, such as allowing consumers to use a debit card instead of cash. Another possibility that has been discussed is Keno, a game that could be played frequently on computer monitors.
Also, the Commission has discussed a change in regulations that would allow more types of retail outlets to sell lottery tickets.
The state lottery spent almost $400,000 in January on advertising and promotions. More than $20.3 million was awarded in prizes. Retail stores that sold lottery tickets were paid more than $1.7 million in commissions.
Lottery Commission staff said recommendations should be ready in time for the legislature to consider them during the 2015 regular session.
The nine members of the commission are appointed by the governor, the President Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. There are 1,881 retail outlets in Arkansas that sell tickets.
The state auditor reported that the amount of unclaimed property claims have gone up 84 percent, in large part due to automation. Every year the auditor administers the Great Arkansas Treasure Hunt, a promotion designed to make people aware of any unclaimed property they may be entitled to.
In 2012 there were 7,554 claims for property, valued at $7,272,205, were paid through the auditor’s office. In 2013 the auditor’s office paid 17,689 claims worth $13,426,189 by the end of 2013.
People claimed money and stocks from old safety deposit boxes. They received old refunds from utilities. They got stocks, securities and proceeds from mineral rights they had forgotten they owned, or never realized that they had inherited.
Now, claims can be filed online, rather than by filling out paper forms. To do so, go to this Internet address: www.auditor.ar.gov
State Sen. Eddie Cheatham represents Southeast Arkansas in the state Senate. The district includes all of Ashley, Bradley, Chicot and Drew counties, roughly half of Cleveland County, and most of Lincoln and Desha counties.