The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery's revenue in December increased by $1.1 million over the same month a year ago to $45.8 million, exceeding the record for the month set a year ago.
And the amount raised for lottery-funded college scholarships narrowly increased in December by about $67,000 over the total from a year ago, to $6.6 million. That's the largest amount raised for scholarships in a December since the lottery raised $6.9 million in 2012.
The lottery's December results were included in a report dated Thursday to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Legislative Council's lottery oversight subcommittee.
The lottery has helped finance more than 30,000 Arkansas Challenge Scholarships for college students each year for the past nine fiscal years. The scholarships also are financed by $20 million a year in state general revenue and a $20 million lottery reserve fund to cover temporary cash-flow shortfalls before the funds are replenished from the lottery's net proceeds.
The Legislature has cut the size of the future scholarships three times after net proceeds fell short of initial projections and more students than expected were awarded scholarships. Also, the 2017 Legislature created a new scholarship program called the Workforce Challenge Scholarship program with the use of excess lottery proceeds.
In December, scratch-off ticket revenue increased by $2 million over year-ago figures to $38.1 million, while draw-game revenue dipped by about $825,000 from a year ago to $7.6 million, the lottery reported.
The lottery also reported $59,793 in fees paid by its 1,922 retailers on Dec. 31, compared with $63,055 in fees paid by its 1,929 retailers a year ago.
"We had our best December for instant tickets ever," lottery Director Bishop Woosley said Friday in a written statement. Instant tickets also are called scratch-off tickets.
"Our new games, advertising support and excellent retail execution combined with a strong economy and low gas prices to produce a great month. We launched a new $20 instant ticket named Ultimate Millions that has done very well and the new $10 ticket named $50 or $100 has sold very well," he said.
As for the dip in draw-game revenue last month compared with December a year ago, Woosley said that "lotteries don't measure monthly draw-game sales success by comparing year over year."
The Powerball jackpot grew to more than $300 million by the end of December 2017 and it was won when it was more than $500 million in early January 2018.
"That was the main difference" in draw-game revenue for December, Woosley said.
Draw games also include Mega Millions, the Natural State Jackpot, Cash 3, Cash 4, Fast Play and Lucky for Life.
December was the sixth month of fiscal 2019.
During the first six months of the fiscal year, gross revenue totaled $259 million. That's the largest amount ever collected by the lottery during similar six-month periods. It exceeds the $243.3 million collected in the first six months of fiscal 2018.
So far in fiscal 2019, the amount raised for scholarships reached $43.7 million. That's the largest amount raised in similar six-month periods since fiscal 2012, when it totaled $45.6 million.
"In total, we are up almost $26 million in sales versus the projected budget," Woosley said. "More importantly, we are up $7,119,937 in proceeds versus budget at this point. That surplus represents 508 more full lottery scholarships to students in Arkansas if we can maintain that increase for the rest of the fiscal year. We are in a phenomenal position heading into the second half of the year."
As of Dec. 31, the unclaimed prize reserve fund totaled $4.5 million. There was $80,159 in unclaimed prizes in December, the lottery reported. At the end of the fiscal year, the balance in that fund, minus $1 million, is transferred for college scholarships.
For fiscal 2019, Woosley has projected total revenue at $482.9 million and net proceeds for scholarships at $85.9 million.
In fiscal 2018, the lottery collected a record $500.4 million in revenue and raised $91.9 million for college scholarships. The latter was the third-largest amount ever for the lottery.
The total of Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships paid out peaked in fiscal 2012 at $132.9 million, when 33,522 students received the scholarships, according to the Department of Higher Education.
The greatest number of students to receive scholarships was 35,303 in fiscal 2014, when $112.7 million was paid out.
In fiscal 2019 that started July 1, the department has projected paying out $92.4 million in Academic Challenge Scholarships for 34,200 students.
So far, the department has paid a total of $151,200 in Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarships in fiscal 2019, its first fiscal year of existence, said department spokesman Alisha Lewis. The program provides up to $800 a year for students enrolled in high-demand certificate and associate degree programs.
She said 2,416 people applied for the scholarships. They were offered to 1,725 students and in the end, 189 were awarded scholarships.
Woosley was asked what games the lottery is adding in light of potential future competition from up to four full-fledged casinos authorized under constitutional Amendment 100, approved by voters in November.
"This year we will be undergoing a conversion of our system and all of the equipment in our retail network," Woosley said.
"It would be difficult during that period to load and test any new games on our system to launch," he said. "That said, we are certainly watching as the casino plans develop to determine how best to compete and remain relevant."
Amendment 100 authorizes Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis to expand their electronic games of skill operations into full-fledged casinos. That amendment also authorizes the Arkansas Racing Commission to grant casino licenses to operators in Jefferson County and Pope County.
Metro on 01/12/2019