Lottery kickoff met with mixed reactions among retailers

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

Mississippi’s official lottery kicked off at 5 a.m. Monday, Nov. 25, with the Mississippi Lottery Corporation (MLC) reporting later that the first day of lottery sales “surpassed $2.5 million, translating into an anticipated return of $570,000 for the state coffers.”

A gas station attendant I spoke with the next morning said that his shop had been swarmed with people eager to buy their first legal Mississippi scratch-offs. Only scratch-off tickets are currently being sold as the lottery slowly rolls out.

The sale of Powerball and Mega Millions tickets will begin in Mississippi on Jan. 30, 2020.

“Mississippians will no longer have to cross into neighboring states to participate in these drawing-style games,” MLC president Tom Shaheen said in late October. “They will soon have the opportunity … to play big jackpot games four times per week, as well as many secondary prizes.”

For years, Mississippi residents have been driving to neighboring states – Louisiana, Tennessee, or Arkansas – to purchase lottery tickets. Alabama is the only neighboring state that continues not to have a state lottery, and is now one of only five states without one. The others are Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah.

I went to four Hattiesburg gas stations on Tuesday morning, the day after the lottery opened. Only one actually had been delivered lottery tickets, though lottery signage was in place at all four. The others were somewhat stoic: “They said we’ll get them soon.”

The man behind the counter at that one station told me that nearly everyone who came into his shop bought chips, or drinks, or gas, in addition to lottery tickets.

But one person’s situation is rarely the same as another’s, as I discovered on Friday, Nov. 29, when I visited several more stores.

For example, Mickey Malhotra, owner of a Shell gas station on Hardy Street, said that lottery sales are “doing very well.”

So well, he added, that some of his other business has slowed.

“It has hurt our other sales,” Malhotra said on Friday. On Monday through Thursday, the last day for which he had data, “we had lower sales of most other things in the store, especially groceries and drinks.”

Sales of fuel and alcohol were largely unaffected, he said.

“Of course, this was the week of Thanksgiving, so it’s impossible to say whether it was lottery sales that caused this,” he said. “Maybe after a month, we can tell better whether the lottery helps or hurts our business. It’s too early to say.”

Meg Annison, director of communications for the MLC, said on Tuesday, Dec. 3, that from the state’s perspective, it will take even longer to grasp the big picture – noting that at the end of the state’s fiscal year, we will have only had the lottery for seven months, and that it will take a full fiscal year to completely understand how the lottery will affect the state’s economy.

According to the MLC website, mslotteryhome.com, the first $80 million raised annually will go toward infrastructure for the first 10 years. After that 10 years, the first $80 million will go into the state’s general fund. Either way, all proceeds over the $80 million mark are slated for education.

(It’s somewhat unclear exactly how the money from lottery sales will be distributed. Some percentage will go to the state, as stated, and some will be disbursed to winners. One thing Annison could verify is that 6 percent of the cost of each ticket is promised to the retailers who sell them.

Later on Friday, Lisa Miller of the Pure Minit Mart, also on Hardy Street, agreed with Malhotra’s assessment – that other sales have suffered because of lottery sales.

“I’ve definitely seen that over the past few days,” she said. “If people spend less on snacks, or groceries, or other things, they have more money to spend on the lottery. It’s a matter of prioritizing.”

In the case at the Pure station, there were only three types of tickets, in a cabinet built for 12 rolls of scratch-offs.

But appearances can be deceiving, Miller said. “They only gave us four kinds of tickets. The only one we’ve sold out of are the $1 tickets.”

The MLC had not yet completed research into the first full week of legal Mississippi lottery as of Tuesday evening, but Annison was able to provide some information. One interesting fact is that Forrest County was one of the top counties in the state, in terms of overall lottery ticket sales.

In the first week of sales, Annison said (meaning Monday-Saturday), $414,600 in lottery tickets were sold in Forrest County, placing this county in the top five markets state-wide. To put that in context, Forrest County is ninth in the state, in terms of population.

Meanwhile, Lamar County had only $58,500 in total lottery sales, while it is 11th in the state, in terms of population.