CHICAGO – Illinois Lottery ticket sales dropped to the lowest point yet this year in October, the same month lottery officials announced they were delaying payouts over $600 because of the state budget impasse, according to data obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Sales for most tickets, including instant games and Powerball, declined about $21 million — with October sales at roughly $215 million compared to September's approximately $236 million. The high was about $260 million in March, according to data obtained in a freedom of information request.
The figures confirm what ticket vendors at gas stations, convenience marts and grocery stores have said anecdotally for weeks about people's frustration with Illinois' budget problems.
Lottery officials announced in mid-October that anyone winning over $600 wouldn't get the money right away because the account used to pay those winnings was dwindling. That followed news in late August that payouts over $25,000 were on hold because there wasn't the authority to cut checks that big.
The state has entered its fifth month without a budget plan as first-year Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature remain deadlocked. Rauner wants pro-business and anti-union reforms, while Democrats say many of those ideas hurt the middle class and they want him to support new taxes.
Lottery officials under the GOP administration wouldn't directly comment on sales, but blamed Democrats for the budget failure.
"This has had a direct effect on the Illinois Lottery's ability to pay its winners, as there is no legislative authority for the Comptroller, or the Lottery, to disburse funds," Lottery spokesman Steve Rossi said.
Lottery sales often fluctuate during the year. More people buy for large jackpots. Summers are busy. Some games are seasonal. To track trends, experts often look at scratch-offs, like those offering "$1,000 a week for life" instant games that are consistently available and attract regulars.
The most sold this year were in March, with about $173 million in sales. Most other months fell between that figure and approximately $154 million, which happened in July and September. But by October, instant ticket sales dipped to under $139 million.
Powerball sales also plummeted from September's nearly $15 million in sales to roughly $6.5 million last month.
The low overall October sales are even more stark when sales for specialty raffle games — offered three times a year — are factored out. Sales dropped more than 10 percent from September to October with Halloween Raffle sales removed. And nearly 40 percent of tickets for the game remained unsold.
Some winners have sued in federal court, seeking payment with interest along with requesting that the Illinois Lottery be barred from selling tickets until it has the authority to pay. The winners' attorney also wants money owed to Illinois residents playing multi-state games held in an interest-bearing account instead of by the Illinois Lottery.
Meanwhile, legislation giving Illinois the authority to pay winners and other entities during the stalemate is on hold. It passed with overwhelming support in the House this week, but a parliamentary maneuver has kept it there. The Senate, which also needs to consider the measure, may not meet again until 2016.