In a state with leadership strongly opposed to expanding gambling, people are playing Florida’s games of chance at a record clip.
The Florida lottery, which last fall inked a deal to make the Sunshine State the first state to offer lottery tickets in Wal-Mart stores, announced this week that sales for the recently completed fiscal year were a one-year record of $4.45 billion.
With sales figures up $440 million from the prior July 1-June 30 period, lottery officials say the state agency will be able to fork over $1.31 billion toward the state’s Education Enhancement Trust Fund.
"Our organization exists for one reason -- to contribute to education funding in Florida,” Cynthia O'Connell, Florida lottery secretary, stated in a release. “We are very proud of our unprecedented transfer to the Education Enhancement Trust Fund this year."
Lottery officials were able to stay out of the failed effort to create a statewide gaming commission and allow at least three mega-casinos in South Florida, as proponents of the effort agreed to keep the department from being under the eye of any commission.
Florida legislators continue to side with gambling's opponents, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Walt Disney Co., to hold off efforts from national and international casino operators seeking to expand their gaming options.
No legislator has proposed rehearing the issue in 2013, but the political action committee “New Jobs and Revenue for Florida,” has already started efforts to put the issue before voters in 2014 as a change in the state Constitution.
At the same time, Gov. Rick Scott, seeking to boost funding for primary education by $1 billion, pushed to bolster lottery revenues by increasing the number of retailers selling Powerball tickets and having more vending machines offering scratch-off tickets installed across the state.
The state entered the 2011-2012 fiscal year with a sales target of $4.275 billion.
Shelly Safford, a senior public affairs specialist for the Florida lottery, has credited the growth in play to an improved assortment of scratch-off games, higher visibility of games through advertising and retail placement, and changes to the Powerball game that included a bigger starting jackpot and better odds.
During the fiscal year, the lottery introduced nearly 50 new scratch-off games, including Wheel of Fortune, Guy Harvey, Monopoly and Lucky For Life.
The improvements to Powerball came in January, with 22 tickets sold in Florida since that time hitting for million-dollar-plus payouts.
"Developing fun and entertaining lottery games is the first part of the equation; after that it is the responsibility of the lottery staff and sales team, along with our retailers and vendors, to maximize sales," O'Connell stated. "I could not be more pleased with their performance this year."
The lottery, approved by voters in 1986, awarded more than $2.79 billion in prizes last year.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.