The Georgia Lottery had its strongest ticket sales ever during the past quarter, relieving concerns from state officials that slow sales would prove costly to the HOPE scholarship program.
Lottery officials said yesterday that they sold $827 million worth of tickets during the third quarter of fiscal 2005 — from January through March. For the first nine months of fiscal 2005, sales hit $2.15 billion, up 4.8 percent from the first three quarters of last year.
Sales were particularly strong for instant games. The Georgia Lottery has sold $170 million more in instant game tickets during the first three quarters than it did in 2004.
That's good news for the popular scholarship program, which guarantees Georgia students with a 3.0 average or higher full tuition at an in-state public college. It has also paid a book allowance and mandatory fees.
Lottery sales are being closely watched because of concerns that declining sales could force cutbacks in the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs, which are lottery-funded. Last year, lawmakers approved a package of reforms to ensure the programs would be financially solvent even if lottery sales dipped. The improved sales mean there won't be further cuts, state officials said.
Ticket sales were down during the first half of fiscal 2005, raising concerns the state would begin cutting back on book payments to students.
"I think we should be fine," said Shelley Nickel, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which administers HOPE.
Legislation passed last year would cut back book and fee payments if HOPE's surplus dipped. The increase in lottery sales will probably make that unnecessary.
A House study commission is scheduled to review HOPE later this year.