The Virginia Lottery had its third-most successful month ever in March, the same month the agency took TV and radio advertisement off the air for National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

March is typically a strong sales month, but a $768 million jackpot in the Mega Millions game likely helped in the ad-free month, said spokesperson John Hagerty. The Lottery has suspended TV and radio advertisement before in March, but this year was the first time it was for all 31 days.

March also had the highest scratcher sales in the Lottery’s history, said Deborah Courtney, director of finance for the Lottery.

The agency usually spends about $1.5 million a month on advertising, a “very fluid” figure since campaigns can cross months or years, Hagerty said.

Existing advertisements, like billboards, remained for the month. The Lottery didn’t purchase any new TV or radio spots.

More sales means more funding for K-12 public education. At the end of March, the Lottery was posting higher-than-projected profits, which go to Virginia schools.

The Lottery had about $500 million in profits at the end of March, which is what is has left over after operating costs and paying out prizes. It puts this fiscal year on track to have the biggest profit the agency has seen in several years, Courtney told the Lottery Board Wednesday.

The Lottery most recently saw a dip in its sales between 2016 and 2017, when it fell from $2 billion to $1.9 billion. Education proceeds in those years fell from $588 to $558 million.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the Lottery made $2.1 billion in sales. About half of that was used to pay out winners, $121 million to compensate retailers who carry Lottery games and $105 million for operating costs. The agency was able to put $606.2 million toward public education and gave $14.1 million to the Literary Fund.

From the $500 million the Lottery has already made this fiscal year (which started last summer), $435 million is allocated for the proceeds fund, which distributes money directly to local school districts. The fiscal year ends in June, meaning that number could increase.

Out of the $500 million in current profits, Courtney said about $5 million in unclaimed prizes is earmarked for the Literary Fund, which is used for school capital costs, including new buildings and technology.

May tends to be another popular month for lottery games, Courtney said. The agency could also get a bump from a mobile app it plans to launch that will allow customers to purchase and play games from their smartphones.


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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.