Michigan Lottery sales drop; some want them stopped

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Lottery sales have been dropping amid the COVID-19 pandemic and tight restrictions on nonessential outings, but sales still amounted to $52.3 million over a recent seven-day period.

The Lottery released the figures Thursday, showing that from March 24, the day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order took effect, through Monday, March 30, sales totaled $52.3 million, down 35% from a similar week last year.

That total includes online sales, but the online sales are a small percentage of the total, said Jeff Holyfield, spokesman for the Michigan Lottery.

The numbers came as some Michigan residents have called on the state to stop in-person sales altogether to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. They argue by continuing to allow lottery tickets to be sold at convenience stores, the state is risking the virus spreading among the people gathered there to make purchases.

On Wednesday, the Lottery notified retailers that they must immediately stop selling tickets if they aren't following the requirements of Whitmer's stay-at-home order. The order required businesses that continue to operate to keep patrons "at least six feet from one another to the maximum extent possible."

The front door of Michigan Lottery office in downtown Lansing is shown on Friday, April 3, 2020. A notice on the door says, "Tickets may still be purchased at retail locations permitted to remain open."

The notification came a day after state Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, sent a letter to the Lottery asking officials to suspend in-person sales for the duration of Whitmer's stay-at-home order, which is set to expire April 13.

"While I appreciate what the Lottery has done here, and I think that it is a good first step, the grocers in my district, the retailers in my district are still concerned," Manoogian said Friday. 

Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham

As of Thursday afternoon, Michigan had 10,791 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the fourth highest total nationally.

Manoogian said retailers are worried that if some retailers deactivate their lottery machines because of social distancing concerns, "it will create crowding at the places that stay activated.”

During a televised town hall on Thursday, Whitmer said the state is reviewing the sale of lottery tickets to determine whether the practice complies with the state's current ban on non-essential activities.

"I have become aware of the serious concern about people congregating around the lottery, and that’s something that we’re taking a look at," the governor said.

The Lottery is monitoring the situation and will deactivate terminals at retail locations that can't comply with the governor's order, Holyfield said.

"The Lottery urges players to follow the Stay Home, Stay Safe order and to not make special trips for lottery tickets," he added. "The Lottery urges players to only purchase Lottery tickets at a store if they are already there purchasing necessary items. The Lottery’s online games remain available for players."

A key source of state revenue, lottery sales have steadily fallen over the last four weeks, according to numbers released Thursday.

From March 10 — the day the state confirmed its first COVID-19 case — through March 16, sales were $75.5 million, down 5% from a similar period last year. From March 24 — the day the stay-at-home order took effect — through March 30, they were $52.3 million, down 35% from a similar period a year ago.

In January, the House Fiscal Agency projected the Lottery would bring in nearly $1 billion for the state's School Aid Fund, which supports education, for Fiscal Year 2021.