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States Declare Lotteries “Essential” During Pandemic – But Are They?

With stay-at-home orders firmly in place, non-essential businesses remain closed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is, of course, to limit unnecessary contact between people, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Essential Businesses Continue to Run — Including State Lotteries

Businesses deemed essential continue to operate, though they are implementing new measures to follow proper social distancing procedures. Most of these are no-brainers, such as grocery stores, healthcare operations, gas stations, and even hardware stores.

However, the closing of anything deemed non-essential has sparked a debate over what businesses should be considered essential and allowed to remain open.

And now, states across the U.S. are declaring lotteries as essential.

However, at a time when people are being told to stay home and avoid contact with others, why are state lotteries necessary?

Over in California, the Department of Public Health notes that the lottery supplements the state’s education budget. In other words, the lottery is serving an essential function. State lotteries raise millions of dollars each year for schools.

The California State Lottery continues to operate, yes. But an analysis of ticket sales statewide shows a 33% drop in sales, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many other states are seeing a drop in ticket sales, too, though it should be expected. Unfortunately, this means a loss in funds raised for education — by the millions.

Lotteries Are Changing Operations Amid Pandemic

It’s important to point out that even though tickets are still being sold, operations have been changed around to keep up with social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

“Here in North Carolina, just like many other businesses, we are putting safety and public health first and making adjustments in our business operations with that in mind,” said NC Education Lottery spokesperson Van Denton.

The NC Education Lottery suspended all marketing and advertising campaigns. They say this was in an effort to keep people from making “an unnecessary trip to a store just to buy a lottery ticket.” They also closed six claim centers across the state.

As for their employees, some are still going to work at the lottery headquarters in Raleigh. However, everyone else was sent home to work remotely starting in mid-March.

Players who win $599 or less can still pick up their prizes in-store, but “lottery tickets with prizes of $600 or more should be signed and secured safely.”

That’s why many states have been extending time frames for claiming prizes.

For instance, the Illinois Lottery is giving players until June 30th to claim winnings, if their prizes were set to expire as far back as March 16th.

North Carolina hasn’t even set a specific date for their extension. Instead, they are giving players “30 days after the state lifts its stay-at-home order to claim prizes.”

Of course, winners can also mail in their claims. Unfortunately, there could be processing delays for those mailed.

Kate Singer

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