The Arizona Lottery has spent four years ramping up efforts to get players to part with a dollar.
It raised its average jackpot by 8 percent and introduced pricier scratch-off games that cost from $5 to $20 but yield bigger winnings, up to $1 million. The tickets now come in brighter colors on thicker paper, and more of them get displayed in bigger cases to catch the eyes of would-be winners lining up at grocery and convenience stores. The lottery also increased its advertising budget by roughly 50 percent, rolling out marketing campaigns geared toward Latinos.
"What we saw was people were pulling back on their expenditures unless they had some value-added propositions," said Jeff Hatch-Miller, a former state legislator and the lottery's executive director.
The bet paid off: Ticket sales increased 20 percent from 2009, reaching a record $584 million this year.
Gambling income, while a consistent source of funds for schools and public health programs, generally isn't a big contributor to state coffers. In 2009, states collected an average of 2.4 percent of their revenue from horse track betting, casinos and lotteries, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. In today's bad economy, lottery ticket sales have become an increasingly important source of revenue for public officials trying to plug gaps in their budgets.
"You have politicians not wanting to raise taxes right now, so lotteries are good ways to raise money," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Arizona wasn't the only state to figure that out.
Lottery income decreased nationwide in 2009 for the first time in more than a decade, prompting many of the 43 states that operate lotteries to redouble their efforts to win back players. This year, 26 of them saw revenues increase, and total sales were up 3 percent, to $56 billion, according to LaFleur's, a lottery research company.
Officials across the country are now debating measures meant to bring in even more money. Tennessee requires that players pay with cash to play the numbers, but lawmakers on the Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force may let its lottery ticket sellers accept credit and debit cards.
In New Jersey, Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano has introduced a bill to clear the way for sales on smart phones.
The Florida Lottery launched a pilot program in March with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which had never ventured into U.S. lottery sales (outside Puerto Rico), but agreed to try them out in 30 of its grocery outlets.
The last frontier might be cyberspace.
Many states have been exploring ways to sell tickets online and modernize their websites, which usually only list winners and explain contest rules. The Minnesota State Lottery lets lotto players subscribe to an online service that automatically plays their numbers for up to a year with just a few clicks of the mouse. Bettors sign up for a game and the number of drawings they want to enter over a minimum of six weeks, then sit back and wait for the lottery to alert them to any winnings.
The development doesn't sit well with Republican state Sen. David Hann, who calls state efforts to encourage gambling during a tough economy "reprehensible."
"We have a situation where a lot of people are struggling financially," he said. "The last thing we should be doing is telling people to go out and gamble."