This week, Mega Millions, one of the nation’s largest multi-state lottery games aside from Powerball, will increase their base ticket price to $2. With that increase, expect people from all across the country, including Nevadans, to rush to their closest lottery retailer in hopes of getting their hands on a jackpot worth over $350 million with greater frequency. In fact, these mega jackpots have already happened nine times since 2016. Higher jackpots caused by higher ticket prices will cause higher demand for lottery tickets, which means higher revenues in many states’ coffers, but not Nevada.
Nevada is now only one of six states without a state-run lottery. The only other states are Utah, Hawaii, Alaska, Alabama, and Mississippi. Wyoming, a sparsely populated state, was the most recent to legalize a state lottery in 2013. Now, common wisdom says that Nevada’s lack of a lottery is due to pressures from the casino industry. A report by Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal says that the state would experience a net loss of 216 jobs, primarily in the hospitality and tourism industry, if Nevada created a state lottery. However, states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana have been able to have land based, non-tribal casinos and lotteries to coexist and flourish. There is no doubt that Nevada could join these states that enjoy the best of both gaming worlds.
Giant jackpots totaling over $350 million are now becoming common when just 10 years ago jackpots of those sizes were treated as an anomaly. With jackpots growing to such sizes, it is evident that lotteries and casinos are no longer competing on the same field. There is no casino in the world that is willing to offer sums that large for tickets that cost $2. Heck, most casinos in Reno wouldn’t let you play blackjack for anything less than $5. It is unwise and unfeasible for a company to offer these giant jackpots plus millions in lower-tier prizes, more-or-less consistently the way state-run lotteries have. The largest jackpot ever given away in a casino was only $39.7 million. The magnitude of lottery jackpots have shown that lotteries and casinos should not be seen as direct competitors in the gambling world.
Over the past two decades, we have seen a stark difference between what casino gambling has become and what lottery gambling has become. Casino gambling has become a form of entertainment, much like a movie, bowling or concert. You go to gamble to have fun, partake in drinks, hang out with friends, listen to some music, and have a night out. It’s obtainable by the masses, everyone can enjoy one night out. On the other hand, lotteries have become a mean of fantasy, the gaming equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons: fun to play but very little chance of becoming reality. The past few years have proven that people are willing to pay $2 for a fantasy that the lottery provides of being financially secure to the point you can tell your boss every word in the dictionary, starting with F.
Also, to further minimize any cannibalization lotteries would have on gaming revenues, Nevada could follow the lead of either North Dakota or Washington in how those states ran their successful lotteries. In North Dakota, only multi-state games like Powerball, Mega Millions, and Lucky for Life can be offered. This means that instant-win games like scratch cards, small potato games like Pick 3 or Fantasy 5, and Keno are prohibited. Or, Nevada could follow the path of Washington, which allows in-state games and scratchcards, but draw games can only be drawn once per day. This would allow for casinos to maintain their advantage of having frequent Keno drawings, for people who like a steady stream of drawings throughout the day. If Nevada were to legalize a lottery, the state could follow either of those models, or chart a middle path. Nevada would be served well with a lottery offering only draw games, both single and multi-state games, that are drawn at most once daily. It would keep people in the state to buy lottery tickets and pose little threat to the casinos for people who gamble and seek instant gratification.
Nevada is losing out on a revenue stream that a great majority of the states have already tapped into. With casino gaming and lottery gaming diverting from each other in the past 20 years, casinos and other traditional gaming establishments should not fear any real competition from a 7-Eleven selling Powerball tickets. When the next billion dollar jackpot comes around, Nevadans should go across the street to buy their tickets, not go across the stateline.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Patrick Hardin is a Noted Idiot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush