Powerball sales on a downward slide in RI thanks to ‘jackpot fatigue’

Revenue down 38% from peak last year, but $700M jackpot now boosting sales

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Powerball fever is in the air once again thanks to a jackpot that has ballooned to $700 million, but the game’s overall sales have dropped sharply in Rhode Island over the last 10 years.

According to annual reports from the Rhode Island Lottery, gross sales of Powerball tickets hit a 10-year high of nearly $49 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year. But preliminary figures for 2016-17 show Powerball sales only amounted to $29 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, a 38% drop from the peak.

The lottery data shows there were peaks and valleys in Powerball sales over the years, but the overall trend in the last decade has been downward.Rhode Island and Massachusetts are among 44 states that participate in Powerball, which has been around since 1992. Tickets cost $2 each, and drawings take place twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:59 p.m.

And Rhode Island isn’t alone in seeing its Powerball sales decline in recent years – most states have also seen a drop, which may explain why a fundamental change was made to the game in October 2015.

At that time officials added 10 more numbers for players to choose from, making it more difficult to win the jackpot, but increasing the likelihood of massive potential payouts such as Wednesday’s $700-million prize. Historically, big jackpots lead to an increase in sales. (The number of Powerball options – the red balls – was also reduced, increasing the chances of winning smaller prizes.)

Melissa Juhnowski, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Lottery, acknowledged the lure of a mega-payout motivates people to head to their favorite corner stores to buy a ticket. But she said falling Powerball sales show there’s also a downside.

“That downward trend is due to jackpot fatigue – as players expect larger jackpots,” Juhnowski said in an email. “The $200 to $300 million jackpots that would have garnered excitement in 2006, no longer have the same appeal.”

The 2015-16 fiscal year, when the change to trigger more mega-payouts was made, is a good example. Rhode Island’s gross Powerball sales jumped by $10 million compared with the prior year as interest soared thanks to six jackpots above $100 million, most notably a record $1.6-billion jackpot in January 2016.

Juhnowski said the same trend is being seen now, with Powerball ticket sales “already 18% ahead of where we were at the same time last year.”

Overall, a little more than 10 cents of every dollar spent on the lottery in Rhode Island – from table games at Twin River to Powerball wagers to scratch tickets – makes its way into the state’s general fund.

Powerball offers better odds for state revenue: Juhnowksi said 37 cents of every dollar spent on the game goes to the budget. The lottery’s annual report shows the state netted nearly $13 million in revenue from Powerball sales in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Despite the decline in gross sales, Powerball is still one of the top earners for the state’s lottery system, second only to Keno in what the agency calls its “online games” category. But the vast majority of gaming revenue that goes into the general fund is generated by video slots at the state’s two casinos: in 2015-16, more than $293 million of the $380 million in total gaming revenue came from slots.

The lottery published this chart showing what money in Rhode Island’s general fund was spent on during the 2015-16 fiscal year:

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.