The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery's gross revenue in September reached $47.5 million, setting a record for the month by beating the previous high of $39 million in 2011, as the covid-19 pandemic continues to be good for lottery ticket sales.
The amount raised for college scholarships last month totaled $7.6 million, which fell short of the lottery's $7.7 million record set in 2018 for the month of September.
The lottery reported its results Friday in its monthly report to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Legislative Council's lottery oversight subcommittee, co-chaired by state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, and state Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs.
The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery has been selling tickets since Sept. 28, 2009. It has helped finance Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships to more than 30,000 students during each of previous 10 fiscal years.
Scratch-off ticket revenue last month increased to $40.6 million from $30.3 million in the same month in 2019, while draw-game ticket revenue increased to $6.7 million from $5.7 million a year ago, the lottery reported. Draw games include Powerball, Mega Millions, Natural State Jackpot, Cash 3, Cash 4, Lucky for Life and Fast Play.
Other revenue included fees paid by retailers that totaled $73,404 in September, compared with $71,484 last year. The lottery's retailers on Sept. 30 totaled 1,964, compared with 1,965 a year ago.
Asked about the increases in scratch-off and draw-game revenue in September, lottery Director Eric Hagler said Monday, "As the lottery ages, we expect to see greater demand for draw games.
"In fact, the steady growth in draw game sales reflects this fact," he said in a written statement. "Our draw games are increasing in popularity and we see this trend continuing, going forward."
Hagler, who has been the lottery's director since Aug. 6, said scratch-off ticket sales present "an immediate win/loss proposition and satisfy a bit of a different appeal.
"Our players enjoy [scratch-off] tickets and we do not forecast a reduction in demand," he said.
The $7.6 million raised for college scholarships in September was an increase from $6.5 million in September 2019.
Hagler said the amount raised for scholarships are correlated to payouts, among other things, and "there were two sizable jackpots in the previous year, which weighed on net proceeds in the aggregate."
September is the third month of fiscal 2021.
During the first three months of fiscal 2021, scratch-off ticket revenue has increased to $126.7 million, compared with $99.9 million in the same period in fiscal 2020, while draw-game ticket sales increased to $20 million in the first three months of fiscal 2021 compared with $18.1 million in the same period in fiscal 2020.
So far in fiscal 2021, the lottery has raised $24.1 million for college scholarships, up from $16 million in the same period in fiscal 2020.
At the end of the fiscal year, the lottery transfers the balance of its unclaimed prize reserve fund minus $1 million to college scholarships. That balance totaled $1.9 million on Sept. 30, after receiving $167,166 in unclaimed prizes in September. A year ago, that balance totaled $4.3 million.
For fiscal 2021, the previous lottery director, Bishop Woosley, projected revenue would total $465.8 million and the amount raised for scholarships would be $78.2 million. In making that projection, Woosley in May cited much uncertainty in the lottery world and the world in general amid the covid-19 pandemic.
The lottery's revenue in fiscal 2020 totaled $532 million to beat the previous record of $516.2 million in fiscal 2019. In fiscal 2020, the amount raised for scholarships reached $89.4 million, which was the sixth-largest amount in the lottery's history. The record amount raised for college scholarships was $98.6 million in fiscal 2019.
Woosley attributed the dip in the amount raised for college scholarships in fiscal 2020 on sales for Mega Millions and Powerball jackpot games being "the worst we've ever seen." Draw-game tickets are more profitable than scratch-off tickets.
Asked whether lottery officials are considering increasing their forecast for fiscal 2021, Hagler said Monday, "We are enjoying good results, but headwinds can be unpredictable.
"Our guidance remains as budgeted," he said.
Asked whether lottery officials are doing anything different with ticket sales in Jefferson County since Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff is set to open Oct. 20, Hagler said, "We recently had a retailer in Jefferson County sell a $2 million Powerball ticket.
"Big wins tend to market themselves, but our Jefferson County costumers know and understand our value proposition," he said.
In September, retailers in Jefferson County sold $2.03 million in tickets, the lottery reported.
That was the second-largest amount of lottery tickets sold by retailers in any county, behind only Pulaski County's $8.7 million. Washington County's retailers sold the third-largest amount of tickets last month at $1.83 million, and Craighead County's retailers sold the fourth-largest amount of tickets at $1.71 million.
The Division of Higher Education provided $89.1 million in Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships to 31,645 students in fiscal 2020, said Alisha Lewis, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Higher Education.
The division forecasts it will distribute $91 million in these scholarships to 31,000 students in fiscal 2021.
The total of Academic Challenge Scholarships peaked at $132.9 million in fiscal 2013, going to 33,533 students. That's dropped since then, largely because of the Legislature cutting the amount of the initial scholarships three times in 11 years. These scholarships also are financed by $20 million a year in state general revenue.
The 2017 Legislature created the Workforce Challenge Scholarship program to use excess lottery proceeds to provide up to $800 a year for students enrolled in programs that lead them to being qualified for high-demand occupations. The division paid out $278,038 in these scholarships to 1,729 students in fiscal 2020, Lewis said.
The 2019 Legislature created the lottery-financed Concurrent Challenge Scholarship program. High school juniors and seniors are eligible to receive the scholarships for a semester or an academic year in which they are enrolled in an endorsed concurrent enrollment course or certificate program under certain conditions. In fiscal 2020, the division paid out $1.4 million of these scholarships to 2,923 students, Lewis said.