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Pandemic Causes Dip in Lottery Sales

Virgin Islands Lottery Executive Director Raymond Williams testifies before Tuesday’s Finance Committee. (Photo by Barry Leeardam, USVI Legislature)

Virgin Islands Lottery Executive Director Raymond Williams said the lottery’s traditional game has dropped significantly in sales due to the worldwide pandemic.

On Monday, Williams told members of the Senate Finance Committee that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the lottery hosted biweekly “regular drawings” and two “extraordinary drawings.” After the outbreak of the pandemic, and the need for social distancing, ticket sales have slowed so much that the commission decided to reduce the number of drawings for the remainder of FY 2020. Now there will be one drawing per month in addition to an “extraordinary drawing” hosted in September.

“What we generally made in revenues in the biweekly draws, approximately 45 percent to 47 percent in sales, immediately dropped to approximately 33 percent for the April drawing as a result of lower ticket sales due to COVID-19,” Williams said. “We requested the commission to initiate monthly draws to give us and the community more opportunities to increase sales.”

The adjustment to monthly drawings has resulted in an increase of sales for the June 25 drawing, which Williams said yielded 60 percent of ticket sales, “a record during my tenure.”

But Williams said it is not just the Virgin Islands Lottery experiencing losses. A national trend has shown reduced sales of Powerball and Mega Million sales.

In addition to the pandemic related sale shortages, “The loss of sales from our traditional game, approximately 40 or more percent per drawing, is the gap we are trying to close,” Williams said. The commission plans on achieving this gap closure through a series of technological updates.

A sheet of V.I. Lottery tickets for the upcoming Mar. 5 drawing boasts a $175,000 grand prize. (Provided by the V.I. Lottery)

The first of these updates came in March where a new random number generating origin draw system was put in place, and “provides us the ability and opportunity to create new lottery games that will allow us to increase and diversify our revenue streams,” Williams said.

The commission is also looking to launch a new point-of-sale system that is scheduled to launch by the beginning of FY 2021, which will improve efficiency and auditing features.

To date, Williams said, there has been no COVID-19 related funding granted to the Lottery that would help alleviate losses, and the personal protective equipment, sanitizer and other health-related supplies for the 47 employees have come out of the Lottery’s budget.

The Virgin Islands Lottery, which has been established for 83 years, has an operating income for FY 2021 of a little over $5.5 million, which is comparable to the current fiscal year. The lottery receives no funds from the General Fund of the Virgin Islands, generating its own revenue.

But senators were less concerned with the legal operations the Lottery was carrying out and more concerned with what could be done by the commission to crack down on illegal gaming in the territory that, despite the pandemic, Sen. Kurt Vialet said was thriving.

“As legislators, we are literally tired of seeing the underground economy flourish in the Virgin Islands. Money is leaving our shores … it’s just openly being done. Years ago, you [Williams] came and I complained about a grocery store where they were laying illegal games going to the Dominican Republic. $148 million was transmitted from the Virgin Islands to other shores … in wire transfers and a lot of that is illegal activity taking place,” Vialet said.

Though Williams wasn’t able to respond during the hearing, in a private interview he told the Source that the commission has been taking “affirmative action against dealers” of illegal lottery tickets.

All committee members – Sens. Donna Frett-Gregory, Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Oakland Benta, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff and Janelle Sarauw – were present for the Finance hearing.

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