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Mass. Lottery Scratches Its Way Back To Profitability

A cashier at College Convenience on Huntington Avenue pulls a scratch ticket from the lottery ticket display to sell to customer. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A cashier at College Convenience on Huntington Avenue pulls a scratch ticket from the lottery ticket display to sell to customer. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

After navigating through the initial disruptions of the pandemic earlier this year, September sales results show the Massachusetts Lottery has righted the ship, though its second most popular product is losing ground.

September sales of $421.3 million were up $20 million over September 2019 and year-to-date sales of $1.37 billion are running $80.6 million, or about 6%, above the same time period last fiscal year, Executive Director Michael Sweeney plans to tell the Lottery Commission on Tuesday, according to a copy of his report.

The Lottery turned an estimated profit of $61.0 million last month, compared to $68.4 million in September 2019. Sweeney said the profit dip was due in part to a $10 million increase in instant ticket grand prize claims last month. Through the first quarter of fiscal 2021, the Lottery has generated profits $31.8 million greater than at the same point last year.

Though sales appear to have mostly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, the effects of the widespread business closures are evident in the agency's monthly sales report.

Scratch tickets are the engine that drives the Lottery, and generally account for 70% of all sales. Keno generally accounts for another 20% and the rest of the Lottery's games each command a few percentage points of the total.

But with bars closed until there is a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine and many restaurants offering limited indoor service, closing for the winter or having already shuttered this year, Keno players have fewer options and year-to-date Keno sales are down nearly 10%. The game has been responsible for 17.2% of Lottery sales since July 1.

Scratch tickets appear to be picking up the slack. While Keno sales are down $24.5 million or 9.4% so far this fiscal year, scratch ticket sales are up $99.7 million, or 11.3%. Instant tickets, the Numbers Game and Mass Cash are the only Lottery products to have sold more so far in fiscal 2021 than to this point in fiscal 2020.

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