Idaho lottery still a popular bet during pandemic worries

Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 18:43:58-04

BOISE, Idaho — Despite a pandemic, many Idaho residents are apparently still feeling lucky.

Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson said Tuesday that ticket sales were down only about 5% last week, and that somebody snagged $250,000 in one the agency's games.

Buying a lottery ticket “does bring some sense of normalcy for folks, because things aren’t normal now for a lot of people,” Anderson said.

Anderson also directs the Idaho State Liquor Division. He said some panic buying at state-operated liquor stores occurred in March, but that’s settled down since it became clear the stores will remain open.

Idaho has been under a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus since March 25. The order expires Thursday, and Republican Gov. Brad Little has suggested his four-stage plan to reopen the state by late June could start Friday. He's scheduled a Thursday morning news conference.

The Idaho Lottery makes dividend payments that go to schools as well as construction and maintenance of state buildings. Anderson told lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee earlier this year that he expected the lottery to bring in about $57 million this fiscal year.

Even with the stay-at-home order, Anderson said it looks like the lottery will have a $52 to $55 million dividend.

Advertising is needed to help sell lottery tickets, Anderson said, but the message has changed to emphasize that the money helps schools and maintenance of state buildings.

“We're trying to be respectful and sensitive to the situation we are in as a country,” he said. “It's kind of obtuse to say, 'Hey, let's go play the lottery!'”

Statewide, more than 1,900 Idaho residents had confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and at least 58 residents have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The Idaho Lottery office is closed to the public because of the virus, so winners have to mail in their winning tickets or drop them off in a slot at the office to have a check mailed to them.

The Idaho State Liquor Division operates 66 stores.

“There was a larger than normal business for several days,” Anderson said of sales in March, likening it to panic buying at grocery stores. “There were some isolated out-of-stocks, but the stores are prepared.”

The liquor division has had no coronavirus cases so far, he said. Early on, liquor stores limited the number of patrons in stores, installed sneeze guards to protect workers and enhanced sanitizing practices. He also said it's OK for workers to wear face coverings if they choose.

Sales to bars and restaurants have disappeared under the stay-at-home order. However, sales at stores, which are more profitable for the state, have made up for it, and revenue overall is holding steady.

“That's just the way it's going to be until we return to some level of normalcy as to what we're able to do as a people and a society together,” Anderson said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

(by Keith Ridler, Associated Press)