Pa. budget czar crosses fingers for a few big jackpots

     Atul Amin sells Powerball tickets at his news stand in Philadelphia in February. Revenue from jackpot games is about 23 percent below last year's level, according to the Pennsylvania Lottery director.(AP file photo)

    Atul Amin sells Powerball tickets at his news stand in Philadelphia in February. Revenue from jackpot games is about 23 percent below last year's level, according to the Pennsylvania Lottery director.(AP file photo)

    Lottery players have been sitting on the sidelines for games like Mega Millions and Powerball – and Pennsylvania bean-counters can tell.

    “We’re seeing some weakness in our Lottery fund revenues, where sales are not keeping pace to projections,” said state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby at his mid-year budget briefing  Wednesday. “That’s certainly a risk that’s out there that we need to be mindful of and potentially plan for.”

    The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, since lawmakers earlier this year made a technical tweak to maximize game profits.

    But the low revenues have more to do with big jackpot games – or rather, the lack of big jackpots this fiscal year. Pennsylvania Lottery Director Sil Lutkewitte said revenue from jackpot games is about 23 percent below last year’s level.

    “You might call it jackpot fatigue,” Lutkewitte said. Some people wait to play games such as Powerball or Mega Millions until the jackpots reach something like $300 million. “These types of players that like these games really only get excited when jackpots get above whatever their level is.”

    The jackpot only reaches that higher level when there’s no winner for several games in a row, letting the jackpot amount “roll” to the next game. But in Pennsylvania, people have been winning those smaller jackpots — keeping the pot from growing and leading the discerning holdouts to stay on the sidelines even longer.

    This calendar year, the two biggest jackpots – $425 million and $259 million — came during the prior fiscal year.

    Lutkewitte said the Lottery’s range of games is its best insurance against dips in ticket sales for any one game. He still expects the Lottery’s net revenues to hit their budgeted mark — $1.1 billion by July.

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