NASHVILLE, Tenn.- This week marked the 9th anniversary of the Tennessee Education Lottery. Revenues continue to grow despite dips in the economy and criticisms that the games take unfair advantage of the poor.
In 2011 retailers were busy with Power Ball and Mega Millions. Those drawings saw a 16% increase in sales Lottery officials said scratch off tickets are responsible for most of the lottery's success in Tennessee.
Sales generated by the Tennessee Education Lottery have grown every year since it started in 2002. In fact last year's total sales of $1.34 billion was a Tennessee lottery record. Even during the worst part of the recession, when half of the lotteries in the country saw decreases, sales went up in Tennessee.
Tennessee Lottery CEO Rebecca Hargrove credits the success to state lawmakers who structured the lottery as a corporation.
"We are entrepreneurial in fashion and we can respond to the market place quickly and provide games players want to play," Hargrove explained.
When a lot of people think of the lottery they think of Power Ball and Mega Millions -the two big jackpot drawing games. Despite recent record jackpots most of the growth in the Tennessee lottery has been dependent on the sale of scratch off instant tickets.
"Instant tickets are 80 percent of our sales and last year we had a hundred million dollars in growth in instant tickets," said Hargrove.
That growth has allowed the state to fund higher education programs and support after school programs. Qualified college students can get up to $6,000 a year in HOPE Scholarships.
Despite the growth and benefits to education the lottery still has critics like Cornerstone Pastor Maury Davis.
"The majority of people who are reaching for lottery are the people who can least afford it. In South Carolina 28 percent of the people that are below the poverty line, and yet 58 percent of the people playing the lottery are coming out of that demographic," said Davis.
But Hargrove said no one is forced to play the lottery.
"It's a, you know a $1 to $5 dollar purchase every week and it's a choice that one makes," she said.
Another reason for the success is the lottery is constantly changing. There are two new games coming soon. There's also an instant ticket scratch off called ‘Win For Life' which starts next month. Winners will get $3,000 a week for life.