AUGUSTA, Maine — Preliminary figures indicate the Maine State Lottery continues to set sales records, with about $218 million in sales from all of its games for the budget year that ended June 30.
“We don’t have June numbers finalized, but we are on target to reach $218 million in sales,” Lottery Director Dan Gwadosky said last week.
That will mean more than $50 million in net revenue to the state. The wagering on lottery games works out to about $209 per Mainer per year, although not everyone plays the lottery.
The most popular games are the scratch tickets, but the most profitable are the online games, whose sales are more volatile, according to Gwadosky.
“The size of the jackpots affects the sales of the online games,” he said. “Sales go up when the jackpots grow large.”
Gwadosky said that was proved again with the state’s latest jackpot game, MegaMillions. Lawmakers added it to the mix of other online games, Megabucks, PowerBall and the Pick-3 and Pick-4 games. Sales of the online tickets overall are up 12.3 percent this year.
He said the state had twice opposed allowing the expansion but was overruled by the multiorganization that operates PowerBall. The vote allowed PowerBall states to offer MegaMillions and MegaMillions states to offer PowerBall. Maine was the last state in New England to add MegaMillions; 41 states are selling the tickets.
“We voted against that, but we were outvoted,” Gwadosky said. “We were directed by the Legislature to start the game; it wasn’t our idea.”
He said that over its first seven weeks of operation MegaMillions jackpots have not been large, while both PowerBall and Megabucks have seen large jackpots. The game has been selling an average of $74,500 a week instead of the projected $85,000.
“I think this game will come back a little bit once there is actually a jackpot in it,” he said.
The MegaMillions game was the only gambling expansion passed by the Legislature in a session that saw several proposals from casinos to keno being rejected. Keno is an online game that would work similarly to Powerball and Megabucks, but the drawing of winning numbers occurs every 10 minutes or so instead of a couple of times a week as the existing online games do.
It was projected to have sales of $8.4 million in the first year, yielding about $2.4 million for the state. That is based on bets ranging from $1 to $20. By the third year of operations, sales and revenues were projected to more than double.
Also rejected was the proposed western Maine casino project that was sent to the Legislature as a citizen initiative resulting from a successful petition drive. The voters will decide its future in November.
In 2008, Maine voters rejected a plan by the Passamaquoddy Tribe to build a casino in Calais, and last year they defeated a widely criticized proposal for a casino in Oxford County.
“Oh, I think we will see more gaming proposals, just not this year,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, after the vote to include MegaMillions in the budget.
He said Gov. John Baldacci’s publicly stated opposition to other gambling proposals kept them from being seriously considered.
Gwadosky told lawmakers the state likely would lose some revenue to New Hampshire if that state sold MegaMillions tickets and Maine did not. The argument of lost revenue to New Hampshire was cited by Baldacci for his support for adding the Powerball game to the state lottery in 2004.
The lottery is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and scratch tickets continue to account for about 60 percent of its revenue.
Gwadosky said he does not pretend to understand the motivations of those who play the lottery, relying on the 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, he said, some of the best-selling scratch tickets have been “Lobster Roll” and “Claws for Cash.” A big holiday seller was “Sandy Claws” that featured a caricature of a lobster wearing a Santa Claus cap.
With that in mind, the latest scratch ticket released last week is the “Lucky Lobster Loot” ticket, which sells for $2.