State lottery posted record $1.02 billion in sales last year

January 04, 1995|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

People spent more than $1 billion betting on Maryland lottery games last year -- the most ever in the lottery's 21-year history.

Sales hit the billion-dollar mark Dec. 23 en route to a $1.02 billion total for 1994, Maryland State Lottery Director Lloyd W. Jones said yesterday. That's an increase of 6 percent over 1993.

The sales record will be announced today at a celebration in Baltimore for lottery employees. "It's a recognition we've hit a milestone for the state of Maryland," Mr. Jones said.

The sales increase can be partly attributed to the popularity of keno, which, coincidentally, made its debut two years ago today.

Officials have heavily promoted the computerized numbers game with television commercials and billboards. Lottery employees even became "coaches" and fanned out to bars to teach customers how to play.

Instant games also were particularly popular among players last year, Mr. Jones said. The lottery offered varied forms of those games to keep them interesting, as well as adding some that cost more than $1 to play, he said.

Other traditional lottery games "are holding their own," he said.

After subtracting the money paid to winners and to operate the games, the lottery sent about $383 million in profits to state government during the 1994 calendar year.

While lottery profits make up a small part of the $13 billion state budget, the money is an increasingly important source of revenue in these times of tight finances and anti-tax sentiment.

In 1993, the state lottery sold $962 million in tickets and earned $359 million in profits for state government, said Carroll H. Hynson Jr., the lottery spokesman. In 1992, before the introduction of keno, the lottery had just $809 million in sales and $351 million in profits, he said.

Not everyone is happy with the lottery's success. Del. Leon G. Billings, a Montgomery County Democrat, frequently criticizes gambling.

"Where did the billion dollars come from? By and large from the pockets of people who can't afford it," Mr. Billings charged. "Most of the lottery money comes from Baltimore City and Prince George's County, the two jurisdictions with the most serious BTC welfare and economic problems."

"It's nothing more than a state-sponsored addiction," he said.

Mr. Jones, the lottery director, disagreed. "It's a form of entertainment. It's not hard-core gambling," he said.

"If you look at the demographics of who played the lottery, it is played across the board" by different socioeconomic groups, he said. "It's not this myth of poor people."

Mr. Hynson said the lottery has popular support. "It's a business for us, and it was passed by popular referendum in 1972 by a 3-to-1 margin," he said.

Without the state lottery, Mr. Hynson said, "people will either go out of state [to gamble] or participate in illegal [gambling] activities, neither of which will bring money into the state coffers."

The Maryland lottery has been more successful than many other state lotteries. Maryland ranked fourth in the amount of money spent per person on lottery games in the 1993-1994 fiscal year, according to lottery officials and LeFleur's Lottery World.

Maryland's 5 million residents spent almost $200 per person on the lottery during that 12-month period.

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