In an effort to ward off losses to North Carolina, the Virginia Lottery is adding Sunday drawings, starting this weekend.
Competition south of the border will cut into Virginia Lottery profits this year, but new games could limit the losses to North Carolina.
"You don't want to sit still and watch that flattening of sales occur," said Sheila Hill-Christian, executive director of the State Lottery Department.
The North Carolina lottery, started last year, could lop profits $50 million, down to about $400 million, by drawing Tar Heel state players who previously bought tickets in Virginia.
Eight percent to 10 percent of Virginia tickets were purchased by North Carolinians, often at retailers just over the state line in such localities as Danville and Mecklenburg, Carroll, Henry and Greensville counties.
Another factor in sagging sales for the 18-year-old lottery: fewer giant jackpots in the multistate Mega Millions game. Virginia is among 12 participating states.
Hill-Christian, appointed in May by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, outlined a plan yesterday to recover nearly $30 million of her agency's first projected decline in profits since 1998.
Coming in the run-up to the 2007 General Assembly, Hill-Christian's initiative is likely to come under scrutiny from election-jittery legislators who prize the lottery as a high-profile source of education aid.
The sales push includes:
- Adding Sunday drawings, starting this weekend, for Pick 3, Pick 4 and Cash 5. This is expected to generate about $14 million. North Carolina currently has Sunday drawings.
- A new scratch game later this month, the $100 Million Cash Extravaganza, could produce $8 million. Tickets will cost $20, with prizes ranging from $20 to $1 million. North Carolina does not have such a game.
- Another new game, Fast Play Bingo, is a computer-generated $2 play and is expected to raise $3.5 million. This game, which begins in early February and has a top prize of $10,000, is not available in North Carolina.
- Virginia's Millionaire Raffle, limited to 330,000 tickets per game, offers $1 million prizes each for three players. The game starts in May or June. It is not in North Carolina's game mix.
Hill-Christian said Virginia might match last year's record profits of $454.9 million through the new games, coupled with more robust sales from big-jackpot, millionaire-maker contests.
"I think we'll be very close," said Hill-Christian, who came to Virginia government from the troubled Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
She is the lottery's third director and its first who is African-American. Hill-Christian said her priorities include strengthening marketing to the game's changing player base.
For example, Hill-Christian said she plans to record a 30-second radio commercial in Spanish. She said the agency, with 250 employees, is considering hiring bilingual sales people.
"I think it will be more reflective of the diversity of Virginia," Hill-Christian said.
The Virginia lottery, one of 43 in the nation, is the state's fifth-largest source of revenue behind the individual income tax, the sales tax, the corporate income tax and the tax on real estate closings.
Since 1999, lottery profits have been directed, under an amendment to the Virginia Constitution, to public schools.