BRAINTREE, Ma. — The Massachusetts Legislature gambled a year ago that the state Lottery would generate at least $759 million in profits for local aid to cities and towns.
That is turning out to be a pretty safe bet after all. Officials at the Braintree-based Lottery disclosed on Thursday that the Lottery's profits are far exceeding their initial expectations, and are on track to generate nearly $50 million more than the Legislature originally projected once the state's fiscal year ends on June 30.
Before this fiscal year began, Lottery officials estimated profits of $814 million, according to a memo from the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. Then, about halfway through the year, they raised that estimate to about $849 million. That put the Lottery in the range of what had been budgeted by lawmakers. The bulk of the Lottery profits are divvied up among cities and towns, but about $90 million is distributed for cultural, arts and gambling prevention grants.
In its latest estimate, the Lottery anticipates a profit of nearly $898 million, including roughly $807 million that could be used for local aid to cities and towns. The total profit would represent a 4.4 percent increase from last year's levels.
"We've been pretty conservative with our projections," said state Treasurer Tim Cahill, chairman of the Lottery commission. "I don't think it could be less than this (at year's end), but it could be more."
Meanwhile, overall sales are roughly on track to mirror total revenues from the previous fiscal year of $4.4 billion. Lottery sales reached their all-time peak two years ago, when $4.7 billion in sales were generated.
Cahill attributed the upward change in the Lottery's outlook to several factors. He cited a 14 percent decline in expenses, as well as the successful introduction of popular games tied to the New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins.
"Every year, we've tried to do something new," Cahill said.
Joining the multi-state Powerball game earlier this year also has helped sustain ticket sales, Cahill said. He said the Powerball sales brought in $20.6 million to the Lottery so far, equaling about $8.6 million in profits, since Jan. 31, when Lottery vendors started selling Powerball tickets.
"It's doing better than we thought," Cahill said. "It brings people in that aren't regular players. They may buy something else while they're there."
Cahill also said there's been no sign that the introduction of Powerball has cannibalized sales of Mega Millions, the multi-state game in which Massachusetts has been a longtime participant.
Offering Powerball here also prevents consumers from driving to a neighboring state where they've long been available to buy tickets, Cahill said.