AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine can add the Mega Millions lottery to its existing games Powerball and Megabucks under an agreement reached by the governing boards of the two multistate agencies last week. But whether the state will add a game is far from certain.
“We voted against the proposal twice and so did New Hampshire,” said Dan Gwadosky, director of the State Liquor and Lottery Commission. “From our perspective, it just didn’t fit in with our games and our marketing plans.”
Last week the Mega Millions consortium and the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees Powerball, announced a deal that would, in effect, allow both to become national lotteries. The states that allow either game now have more than 285 million residents. The states that want to participate could add the new game in early 2010, and several states are jumping on the bandwagon as a way to bolster sagging state revenues.
“If we can provide more opportunity for people that want to play a game, let’s do it,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “We already have a lottery and the instant games. Why not expand as other states are doing?”
He said it would be an option his committee would want to look at as it faces a growing revenue gap for the remainder of the two-year budget. Although revenues have not been formally reprojected, Gov. John Baldacci has ordered agencies to target $200 million in spending over the two-year period as areas to consider for cuts.
“I am sure that there will be members [of the Legislature] that would find that appealing, and [it] wouldn’t surprise me to see that end up on the table of options,” said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the only GOP senator on the panel. “But it is my sense that we have gone about as far as we can go with gambling. I think there is just so much money there.”
He said the state, through its instant tickets and big jackpot games such as Powerball, already has a “gambling parlor” on nearly every street corner in the state. He said Mainers who want to gamble already have plenty of opportunities.
Gwadosky said one reason Maine has opposed the expansion is the concern that another big jackpot game would “cannibalize” other games. He said the state lottery has not done a formal study of how a “national” lottery with even larger jackpots than Powerball now has would affect other games.
“We are pretty sure it would draw from other games, but we haven’t done some focus groups on that. But I am sure we will,” he said.
Gwadosky said the agency is always using focus groups and other market research methods to determine what games to offer.
While she is not enthusiastic about gambling, Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House chairwoman of the committee, said with the state in such dire fiscal straits, everything has to be considered by lawmakers to bring the budget into balance.
“We will have to do things we don’t really want to do before this is all over,” she said. “I don’t think expanding the types of games we offer will ever be the centerpiece of a proposal that comes out of the Appropriations Committee.”
Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the lead GOP House member on the panel, agreed the committee will have to consider all options in putting together a supplemental budget. He said although he sponsored legislation to allow a casino in Oxford County, he does not believe new gambling revenues will be a significant factor in balancing the budget.
“Sometimes you are put in a position where you have to look at ideas that you wouldn’t want to look at in good times,” he said, “so I will be open-minded. We sometimes use the word ‘gimmick’ in a disparaging way, but this feels like a bit of a gimmick to me.”
While Powerball accounts for 20 percent of all Maine State Lottery revenues, the longtime Megabucks game was changed this summer with a basic ticket price doubled to $2. That has allowed a minimum jackpot of $1 million. Gwadosky expects that will bolster sales.
While not as profitable as the online games, the various scratch tickets generate three-fifths of all the revenue for the lottery.
Gwadosky said he does not pretend to understand the motivations of those who play the lottery, relying instead on studies to decide what sells. He said anything with a lobster on a scratch ticket sells better than other tickets, and he has no idea why. For example, some of the best-selling scratch tickets have been “Lobster Roll” and “Claws for Cash.”