Gambling’s not a panacea, but it can’t hurt

It’s a surprise to no one that this coming fiscal year will be a challenge to all agencies charged with raising revenue for the state. But even when people are spending less and less, the expectations to raise revenue only gets higher.

The economic landscape has shifted, but those of us at the New Hampshire Lottery remain dedicated to our primary goal: raising revenue for the state and adding to the more than $1.3 billion that has already gone to education.

Although we are a small state, New Hampshire is well above average in sales, ranking 14th out of 42 states in lottery sales per capita.Of the 14 lottery states with populations under 3.5 million people, New Hampshire was No. 1 in instant ticket sales, with $183.1 million in fiscal year 2008. Of those smaller states, New Hampshire ranks first in total ticket sales. 

Recent reports have detailed that lottery revenues for fiscal year ‘09 are down. — no surprise in this economy. What these reports often fail to state is that revenues are down compared to a near-record year in 2008, in which $261 million dollars was raised and $75.6 million was distributed to education. In fact, we had a revenue spike of three consecutive banner years from 2006 to 2008.

Although we won’t know the final revenue figures until July, fiscal year 2009 is likely to be our fourth-highest on record.

The bar has been set high for the New Hampshire Lottery, and many factors beyond our control are working against us, but we do not believe that the goals set for us are unobtainable. In order to maximize revenues and give all we can to education, we all have to explore new thinking about what the lottery can be and what players want.

The Lottery Commission has been open about our position that if we are to raise more than $100 million in new revenue, we must explore expanding gaming. While the concept is new to the Granite State, it’s not new to many of the other state-run lotteries in the country.

Just last month the governor of Pennsylvania proposed expanding gaming to pay for a college tuition relief plan for residents. In all, 14 states are currently discussing expanding their gaming options.

To be clear, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission doesn’t favor one type of game over another. Keno has been successful in more than a dozen states. Massachusetts, our biggest lottery product competitor, sold $739.9 million in Keno tickets in FY 2008. Video lottery terminals also have been introduced in five states. Rhode Island, which sold only $81 million in instant tickets in 2008, sold an additional $77.6 million in Keno. Rhode Island also recorded $2.1 billion in VLT sales, returning $477 million in profit to state coffers.

Expanding gaming options is not a panacea. All of the states that feature expanded gaming face the same economic challenges that New Hampshire does. But every dollar returned by a state’s lottery is one less dollar that needs to come from other revenue sources.

Our work is cut out for us. But unlike a scratch ticket or Powerball numbers, luck and chance are not the only factors in our success. With shrewd planning, strong marketing and innovative thinking about our operations, we can move closer each day to our goal. 

Richard Campbell, chairman of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, is a former executive major with the New Hampshire State Police.

Categories: Opinion