Despite a sluggish economy that has many consumers pinching pennies, Marylanders are still willing to pony up a buck for a chance to win big.
For the 15th consecutive year, the Maryland Lottery reported an increase in ticket sales, pumping more money than ever into the state treasury.
Maryland sold $1.795 billion in lottery tickets during fiscal 2012 — $80.4 million more than the prior year, the state lottery agency announced Monday. The lottery contributed $556 million to the state's operations, 7 percent more than last year, and was the state's fourth-largest source of revenue, after sales, income and corporate taxes.
People like Shonae Mackall helped fuel such returns for the state.
"I might buy a scratch-off every now and again," said Mackall, who bought a bingo scratch-off late Monday at the 7-Twelve Convenience Store and Tobacco Shop in Mount Vernon while on break from her job at the Central Booking and Intake Center. "I haven't had much luck with it."
Still she said she plays "just for fun" about once a week.
"The record and sales increase is a culmination of a lot of different things," said Stephen Martino, the Maryland Lottery's director.
Chief among the reasons for sustained growth, Martino said, are the diversity of gambling options offered by Maryland, from scratch-off instant tickets to jackpot games, and the strength of the Lottery's retail network.
The stagnant economy both hurts and helps, said Melissa Kearney, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has studied lotteries.
People in general are more likely to spend money on the lottery when times are good, Kearney said. But lower-income people or those who have lost an income are more likely to play when the economy is suffering. That's because they often feel as if the lottery is their only means of quickly accumulating money, she said.
"When people have experienced a loss of income, they do gamble more," she said.
And for the lucky few, it pays off. Players were paid more than $1.066 billion during the Lottery's 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
Different lottery games appeal to different segments of the population, Kearney said. Instant tickets are favored by lower-income people with less education, while jackpot tickets are preferred by more educated, higher income individuals, she said.
The Maryland Lottery saw gains across all its game segments during the fiscal year. No single family of game makes up more than a third of the lottery's revenue.
Monitor games had the largest share of lottery sales, about 29 percent. Those games, which are played by watching a screen that refreshes every few minutes, brought in $521.7 million, almost $25 million more than last fiscal year.
The state's daily draw games, Pick 3 and Pick 4, brought in nearly the same amount as the monitor games, $520.1 million.
People spent slightly less — $506.8 million — on the state's scores of different scratch-off tickets, which can be purchased for amounts varying from $1 to $20 and have top prizes that range from $500 to $1 million.
Jackpot games, which often get the most attention because of their multimillion-dollar drawings, hauled in the least: $246.3 million.
Maryland's consistent network of 4,200 retailers also helped maintain growth, Martino said. Lottery retailers earned commissions totaling $118.3 million last year, according to the Lottery.
A program called "Sales Maker" helped about 100 lottery retailers renovate their lottery sales areas to keep them attractive and usable for consumers, he said.
The lottery spends about 3 percent of its revenue on operations. Established in 1973, it has contributed more than $12.8 billion to the state. Most of the money goes to the general fund, which pays for education, public safety, transportation and other initiatives.
Headquartered in Southwest Baltimore, the Maryland Lottery recently reorganized its sales and marketing operations, making them more efficient and effective, Martino said.
The team has done more to push the Maryland Lottery's online presence, through social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, he said. Marketing lottery games in partnership with the Ravens and Orioles sports franchises also has been a boon, Martino said.
March's $656 million Mega Millions jackpot, shared by the owners of three winning tickets, certainly didn't hurt sales either, Martino said. A ticket sold at a 7-Eleven on Liberty Road in Baltimore County was one of the jackpot winners and went to a trio of public school teachers who wished to stay anonymous.