Casinos can learn lessons from lotteries

Two simultaneous lottery jackpots of over $350 million would have drawn widespread national attention ten years ago. Not any longer.

Last week the top jackpots of both Powerball and MegaMillions crossed that dollar threshold. It was the first time that the two national lottery games simultaneously had such big payouts. Big jackpots used to be news. But lagging ticket sales mean that the top jackpot prizes don’t escalate as quickly as they once did, and other factors seem to be at play as well when it comes to free publicity.

Rather than gloat about the decline of a perceived competitor, casino operators could learn from the current situation of lotteries:

The nation has jackpot fatigue. MegaMillions got extensive airtime when a series of rollovers pushed the jackpot to a record $656 million in April 2012. Powerball passed $1.6 billion in January 2016.  So many people are seeing this month’s jackpots as “only” $350 million, even though the MegaMillions final jackpot of $393 million, reached on Friday, was the fifth-highest in the history of that lottery. How does this relate to casinos? Well, public expectations only go one way: up. So if your big promotion today is a $100,000 prize, realize that the next big thing will have to at least match that.

Lottery players want more immediate results. In my home state, Florida, draw games such as Powerball, MegaMillions, and the Florida Lotto used to comprise about 42 percent of total sales. Now it’s 32 percent. The reason most cited by players is immediacy: with scratch-off games, players find out right away whether they’re a winner. They don’t have to wait until the twice-weekly drawing at 11 p.m. As a frequent casino visitor, I have seen promotions that require coming back later for an award, or signing up now and getting the bonus via e-mail later. While I understand that the idea is to build repeat business, casino operators should realize that the delay in getting a reward will negatively affect player interest.

Players can recognize when the math is bad. The Internet has sped up the flow of information, to the point that you’d almost have to not try in order to understand that 50 percent of the money from the big lottery games is siphoned off by the states. For casinos, don’t think that players aren’t aware of the underlying math when they put their money at risk.

Lottery sales are driven by accessibility. More people - by far - play the lottery than set foot in a casino each year. You can get tickets at gas stations, grocery stores, and probably within a mile of where you are right now. (Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii readers excluded.) So it makes sense that casino industry leaders are trying to mainstream casino gambling, and to their credit, there have been inroads. (The concept of a electing a former casino owner as President of the United States, for example, wouldn’t have flown even two decades ago.)

Final note: All of the top 18 jackpots in U.S. history occurred in 2012 or later. Powerball’s impending $650 million jackpot for Wednesday places it No. 3 all-time.

Twitter: @NickSortal