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Lottery officials attribute boom in sales to video lottery mach

by Davin White

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Business is good in West Virginia, as state lottery sales and revenues, year after year, have been going through the roof.

West Virginia Lottery sales are increasing at such an incredible rate that this year's unaudited sales may have set a national high for a percentage increase over the past fiscal year.

The projected 33 percent increase in sales from the 2000 fiscal year to the 2001 mark beats the previous year's national mark by 9 percent, as New Mexico had a 24 percent increase in state sales in fiscal year 2000. Each fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30 of the next year.

"It very well could be (a record) in increase in percentage of sales," said David Gale, executive director of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

Gale doesn't know for sure, however, because the NASPL won't receive final audited reports for at least a month.

State Lottery officials wouldn't speculate on projected figures, which should be made official this week. However, they are attributing the vast improvement to video lottery machines.

West Virginia Lottery spokesman Libby White said the increase is "wholly related" to the increased popularity of video machines at the four state-controlled lottery sites: Wheeling Downs, Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort, Tri-State near Charleston and Charles Town Races.

This fiscal year's increased number of video lottery terminals at the sites have led to the sales increase, state Lottery spokeswoman Nancy Bulla said.

"The revenue from the four racetracks account for over 70 percent of our total profits," Bulla said.

She added, however, that the state only collects 30 percent of the money spent at the racetracks.

The numbers it brings in are still staggering.

In fiscal year 2000, the money collected by the state on video lottery was over $283 million. By 2001, the sales increased to $438 million.

"Video lottery is certainly getting the eye of anyone looking at our dollars and cents," Bulla said.

While video lottery may not bring in as big a jackpot as multi-state games like Powerball do, they are still the biggest attractions.

Instant games and online games such as Powerball still get plenty of players.

Constantly changing to stay fresh, the state Lottery tries to change appearances and game styles of both on-line games and the instant games, Bulla said.

"To keep the public's interest, you redesign games to see what there is interest in," Bulla said.

Sally Danyluk of the Pennsylvania Lottery agrees. The biggest growth area for the lottery has been their instant games.

Total lottery sales in Pennsylvania increased by $93 million from the 2000 fiscal year to the 2001 fiscal year, as a direct result of the instants, Danyluk said.

However, Pennsylvania doesn't have the multi-state games like West Virginia does.

Powerball not only brings in half of West Virginia's on-line dollars, it brings back larger jackpots for smaller states, and when the sum gets up, people really begin to play.

"The larger the jackpot, the bigger the sales," Gale said.

Before Powerball, West Virginia "rarely had a jackpot of $1 million," Bulla said. When the Powerball lottery raised to more than $250 million in 1998, $15 million was spent on a single drawing.

"We had people coming from Pittsburgh to play," Bulla said.

Officials also said that years when Powerball and other jackpots aren't too big, the prize money awarded for the year goes down.

"A lot of that could be that we haven't had significant Powerball jackpots," White said.

Bulla said that much of that depends on decreases and increases in on-line and instant ticket sales.

"Those things you cannot control," Danyluk added.

However, multi-state on-line games like Powerball would help out a state like Ohio, which, unlike West Virginia and Pennsylvania, has taken a serious decrease in sales, Gale said.

"That's one of the things that could help revive their lottery," Gale said.

Like Pennsylvania, Ohio has no multi-state games or video games as part of the state lottery. West Virginia is one of only five states to have video lottery terminals, which Gale calls "great revenue producers."

That doesn't mean gamblers are getting swindled.

Bulla said state law dictates that at least 45 percent of on-line and instant monies played go back to gamblers. The average returned is 50 percent, which is used as a "cushion," Bulla said.

Because of the many organizations involved with the video lottery sites, its sales and revenues are evaluated independently, Bulla said.

Over $868 million, generated by the state since the lottery's first ticket was sold in 1986, has essentially gone to education, senior citizens and tourism, Bulla said.

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