Scratcher tickets help boost sales for New Mexico Lottery

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Lottery has managed to grow its overall sales in the face of industry-wide trends that have seen ticket sales for big jackpot games such as Powerball and Mega Millions take a nose dive, the state's top lottery chief said Wednesday.

Lottery CEO David Barden said the decision to focus attention on the lottery's instant-win scratcher games over the past year has paid off with sales for those games growing more than 14 percent. That offset the decline in sales among the big multistate drawings.

The lottery has dedicated Tuesdays to unveiling the latest instant-win games in hopes of generating excitement among players and its advertising blitz now spans the airwaves and has turned city buses into colorful rolling billboards.

"We're trying different things to stay out in forefront with our player base," Barden said. "Without players, we have no scholarships so we're very mindful of trying to keep our player base happy."

One of the driving forces behind boosting ticket sales in New Mexico is the lottery scholarship program. Right now, state law calls for 30 percent of gross lottery revenues to be funneled toward college tuition scholarships for thousands of students across the state.

State officials have been concerned in recent years because lottery proceeds haven't kept pace with rising college tuition and demand for financial assistance.

Changes to the scholarship program were enacted in 2014 to shore up its finances. Lawmakers also had earmarked a portion of liquor tax money to keep the program solvent temporarily, but efforts to eliminate the 30 percent requirement and clear the way for credit card purchases of lottery tickets in order to boost sales were rejected during the 2015 legislative session.

Lottery and education officials say they expect the debate to continue during the 30-day budget session that will begin in January.

The scholarships previously covered 100 percent of tuition, but state higher education officials say the distribution for the current fall semester and the upcoming spring semester has been set at 90 percent and will not change.

Any subsequent payouts have yet to be determined, said Joe Cueto, a spokesman for the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

According to the lottery's latest figures, money raised for the scholarship program increased this year to $41.1 million, beating last year's return of $40.9 million.

The lottery has raised $654.5 million for education since its inception in 1996, and more than 97,000 students have attended college on lottery scholarships.

Overall lottery sales for the 2015 fiscal year were $137 million — $1 million more than the previous year. The sale of the instant-win scratcher tickets accounted for nearly $80 million in net sales.

Barden said more people also are participating in the lottery's rewards program, which gives players second chances to earn points and prizes with those scratcher tickets that aren't winners. The idea, he said, is to generate more revenue from the lottery's lower-payout games.

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