RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Even before the recent Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots drove people to buy tickets, North Carolina Education Lottery officials say the agency was on track to have one of its strongest years for sales amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Van Denton, a spokesman for the lottery, said sales in the first six months of the current fiscal year were up 25 percent over the same period in 2019.
The fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.
“Last March when the state first entered the stay-at-home order, sales dropped. But, in April they came back and we’re having actually one of the best years ever,” he said.
The jackpot for Friday’s Mega Millions drawing reached $1 billion, the first time it has climbed that high since the fall of 2018.
Powerball’s jackpot reached $730 million on Wednesday when a winning ticket was purchased in Maryland.
Jill Taylor, who was selling tickets Friday at Jilley’s in Raleigh, said, “The last couple weeks, oh, it’s been mayhem around here.”
For Tuesday’s Mega Millions drawing (when the jackpot was $865 million), North Carolina lottery retailers sold about $7.7 million worth of tickets, Denton said.
By comparison, when the jackpot was $20 million in September, there was about $537,000 in sales, he said.
Denton said while those games are getting the most attention recently, scratch-off tickets as well as Carolina Pick 3 and Carolina Pick 4 remain the most popular games in North Carolina.
As the pandemic started, officials overseeing Mega Millions and Powerball reduced the starting jackpots in those games from $40 million to $20 million.
Sales had begun dropping in those games before the pandemic, and there was uncertainty about to what extent COVID-19 would further impact that.
But, as time went on, Denton said lottery sales improved significantly.
“A lot of the money families have, they’re saving money. They don’t have as many options for entertainment as they normally do, can’t go to movies right now,” he said.
Jennifer Fernandez of Raleigh purchased 14 tickets for Friday night’s drawing. She thinks the difficult time so many people are going through is actually driving some of them to try the lottery.
She said, “People are hopeful, and hope brings you out. I think that’s what it is, why a lot of people are going out to buy tickets. They want to try their luck. They’ve been through a lot of things. So, why not?”
Denton said since September, sales from Powerball and Mega Millions have generated about $41 million in funding for education programs.