Successful Gamble

As the Georgia Lottery celebrates its 30th anniversary, millions of students around the state are winners.

You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket.

That’s a common phrase when it comes to lotteries around the globe. But here in the Peach State, where the Georgia Lottery is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, the real winners are the students and families that continue to benefit from lottery-funded pre-K programs and HOPE college scholarships and grants. In fact, students have received $14 billion in HOPE awards over the past three decades.

Georgia Trend, Gretchen Corbin

Celebrating a Milestone: Gretchen Corbin, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corp.: photo Ben Rollins

My, How You’ve Grown

It was a typical hot Georgia summer when, on June 29, 1993, Georgia Lottery sales kicked off with two inaugural scratch-off games, Instant Cash and Georgia Millionaire. Zell Miller, governor at the time, bought the first lottery ticket sold in the state. A launch celebration was held at Underground Atlanta, with entertainment by George Jones and the Pointer Sisters part of the hoopla.

More than $13 million in tickets sold that first day. Six weeks later, the Georgia Lottery’s first draw game, Cash 3, was introduced. By month five, sales had already topped the $463 million goal set for year one. Another celebration was held at Underground to mark the first successful 12 months, with year-end figures reflecting total sales of $1.1 billion.

Three decades later, several milestones marked the year leading up to the 30th anniversary, including reaching the $25 billion mark in funds raised for education since the lottery’s inception. What created the most excitement across the state, however, was when the Powerball jackpot reached a record $2.04 billion on November 7, 2022. On the 41st draw, a lucky winner emerged.

While the 30th year won’t include a party at Underground, there will certainly be plenty of celebration, says Gretchen Corbin, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corp., including promotions across the state and the release of new games to mark the milestone.

In her role since 2018, Corbin is the third president to head the lottery in its 30 years. With a background in economic development and having served previously as commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, she came wielding a solid understanding of the workings of all Georgia Lottery programs.

None of this would have come to fruition, of course, without the Georgia General Assembly’s passing of the Georgia Lottery for Education Act during the 1992 legislative session, followed by voter approval that November. And Georgia leaders have remained steadfast in their commitment to the lottery and its funding of education programs since then, says Corbin.

Today, players have over 90 instant games and 11 draw – or computerized –games from which to select. Among the latest offerings is iLottery, a Georgia lottery app for online play.

“We want to continue bringing innovative and exciting products to our customers, whether that’s at one of our retailers or on their computers and phones,” says Corbin, adding that the partnerships with Scientific Games and IGT are crucial to those efforts.

Behind the Scenes

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Crucial Partner: Scientific Games’ John Schulz, president of Americas & Global Instant Products: photo by Ben Rollins

While Georgia Lottery marketing efforts fan the flames of excitement by announcing new games, new jackpots and new ways to play at any of the state’s 8,477 retailers, the development and technology is done behind the scenes, namely through Scientific Games, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

With global headquarters in Alpharetta, Scientific Games has served as the Georgia Lottery’s scratch off, or scratchers, game partner since the lottery’s inception in 1993, playing a key role in growing scratchers to a $3.9 billion-plus consumer product category last year, says John Schulz, president of Americas & Global Instant Products.

“At the time [early ’90s], myself and 18 or so employees worked 14-hour days, six days a week at the Scientific Games warehouse to launch the scratchers,” recalls Schulz. “I remember Rebecca [Paul] Hargrove, the Lottery’s first president, personally coming to our warehouse to thank everyone. Our employees were extremely proud to be launching a lottery in their state that would provide scholarships for students here. It was a partnership from Day 1.”

With more than 36 years of experience in the lottery industry, today Schulz directs all aspects of Scientific Games’ worldwide instant products, licensing, systems and retail solutions business, as well as business development in the Americas. He leads operational and business development teams responsible for the company’s global instant products, including game design, programming, production and logistics, and the lottery systems business in the Americas.

“The Georgia Lottery is one of the most successful in the world,” he says, adding that the Georgia Lottery Corp. is currently ranked No. 2 in the world for instant game per capita sales. Scientific Games creates the games that account for 75% of the world’s instant lottery game retail revenues. Here in Georgia, Scientific Games’ development and management of Georgia’s collection of instant games has resulted in record- breaking sales, translating to optimum payout to the educational programs it supports.

The Jumbo Bucks family of instant games, designed and manufactured by Scientific Games for the Georgia Lottery, surpassed the $12 billion mark in 2021 for all-time retail sales in the state. The best-selling instant game in the U.S., $2 Jumbo Bucks has produced over $5 billion in retail sales since it launched in Georgia.

All told, Scientific Games has designed and manufactured more than 1,700 new scratchers games for the Georgia Lottery over the past 30 years, and in the last five years has helped increase scratchers retail sales by over 20% in Georgia. Currently, the company provides 98% of Georgia Lottery scratchers products.

Another growth partner of the Georgia Lottery since the beginning is primary technology supplier IGT. Last year, the Georgia Lottery extended a seven-year contract to IGT, including a list of priorities for bringing new gaming technology products to market beginning this year.

“We are continuously working with the team at the lottery to understand their evolving business needs and respond with delivering fresh, compelling solutions that are aligned with the lottery’s goals,” says Jay Gendron, IGT COO, Global Lottery. “We do extensive research and analysis to ensure that we are serving the Georgia Lottery with the advanced, reliable technology and the most compelling content to meet the changing needs of its players.”

The lottery industry has evolved quite a bit since the Georgia Lottery sold thefirst ticket 30 years ago. The introduction of iLottery has enabled IGT to enhance the lottery’s offering even more, says Gendron.

“Last year, IGT upgraded the iLottery platform that included the Remote Gaming Server cloud solution,” he says. Cloud technology offers the Georgia Lottery many advantages that can enrich the overall player experience. IGT has also helped launch three new eDraw games to increase offerings in the digital channel.

“Players can conveniently access eight of the lottery’s 11 draw games digitally, which helped drive sales growth,” he says.

While dreaming of winning a big jackpot or scratching a few instant games is a lot of fun for the majority of players, there are some for whom gaming becomes problematic. The Georgia Lottery and Scientific Games tout responsible gaming programs to help participants overcome gambling addiction. In fact, the Georgia Lottery contributes $400,000 annually to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to fund research, education and treatment of gambling addiction. In addition, as one of the few lottery companies globally certified by the World Lottery Association as a Responsible Gaming provider, Scientific Games’ Healthy Play program provides tools and resources to all stakeholders about “lottery literacy” and the healthy enjoyment of lottery games.

Changing Lives

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Giving Students HOPE: Lynne Riley and friends at the Governor’s Valedictorian reception Photo contributed

The lottery-funded HOPE educational initiative has grown over the past 30 years to include six distinct programs: the HOPE Scholarship, Zell Miller Scholarship, HOPE Grant, Zell Miller Grant, HOPE Career Grant and the High School Equivalency Examination Grant Program. HOPE programs are offered at 81 Georgia public and private colleges, universities and technical colleges.

During the lottery’s first year, a total of about $21 million was awarded to Georgia students. Last fiscal year, approximately $821 million was awarded to Georgia students through the HOPE program, says Lynne Riley, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

“Over the last 30 years, the HOPE Scholarship program has made it possible for over 2.1 million Georgia students to pursue an affordable postsecondary education while keeping our best and brightest in the Peach State,” she says.

Lottery Jay Gendron Igt Contributed

Enriching Games: Jay Gendron, IGT COO, Global Lottery: photo contributed

Along with funding for postsecondary education, the Georgia Lottery funds a pioneering state program for preschoolers. Amy Jacobs, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), says Georgia’s pre-K program significantly impacts school readiness skills in language, literacy and math and is nationally recognized for its exemplary quality. In addition, Georgia’s model for providing the pre-K program is a standout as it’s offered through a public-private partnership in local school systems, private childcare centers and other facilities.

Having witnessed two of her children succeed in pre-K and beyond, Scarlett Sparkman of Gwinnett County had no doubt she’d send her youngest to the same program this fall. Now in fourth and sixth grades, her oldest two attended the lottery-funded pre-K at Child Time in Lilburn.

“We loved everything about it – the program, the center and the people,” she says. “It’s really the people in place that make the program.”

The Sparkmans enjoyed working with the same director and even the same teacher for the first two children, who were already enrolled in childcare at the facility before reaching pre-K age. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a great experience and good teachers. It gave the children a good grounding and made them more confident.

“It’s just such a great foundation. You know, we start teaching them at home at young ages, but having them in a structured program really helps them develop and grow; it’s really the core.”

The impact of lottery-funded education at the postsecondary level cannot be overstated. Bryson Henriott, a Vidalia native, said there is no doubt about it: Without HOPE, he would not have been able to attend the University of Georgia, where he majored in political science and public relations. Having tuition covered allowed him to be more active on campus during his years at UGA, where he was president of the student government association.

“We want to continue bringing innovative and exciting products to our customers, whether that’s at one of our retailers or on their computers and phones.” Gretchen Corbin, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corp.

Lottery Amy Jacobs Contrib Web

Nationally Recognized Program: Amy Jacobs, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL): photo contributed

“As a first-generation college student from rural Georgia, UGA was always a dream but never something I thought could be a possibility. But, because of the HOPE scholarship, I have been able to attend one of the best universities in the world and not fear the financial barriers that would have prevented me from higher education,” he says. Knowing it would take top scores to qualify for paid college tuition kept him especially focused throughout high school, he adds. His younger brother will soon attend college on a HOPE Scholarship, as well.

Like Henriott, Kelci Register had dreams of going to UGA but came from a family of modest means. She opted instead to attend Southern Regional Technical College in Thomasville and used HOPE and Zell Miller funding to do so.

“It was really my only choice to be able to go to college at all,” says Register, who earned her bachelor’s degree and is now a registered nurse. Today, she’s teaching at the same school she graduated from and knows that many students in her practical nursing program classes also depend on lottery-funded education programs.

In past tight state budgets, lottery-funded scholarships and grants were reduced and some did not cover full college tuition. However, this spring, Gov. Brian Kemp convinced Georgia lawmakers of the need to return to the lottery’s original funding goal of paying full tuition for high school graduates who have maintained a B average.

While the impact on students has been monumental, funding provided by the lottery reaches beyond classroom walls and is a boost to the state’s economy. In Fiscal Year 2022, approximately 8,800 Georgia Lottery retailers earned a total of $320.1 million in commissions (an average of $36,375 per retailer). Over 80% of those commissions were earned by small businesses. In addition, prizes delivered to winning players last fiscal year totaled more than $3.59 billion. Winnings used to purchase goods and services throughout the state also have a positive impact on the economy.

At the end of the day, people can’t really win if they don’t buy a ticket. Buying a ticket doesn’t guarantee anyone will become a millionaire, but it does guarantee continued opportunities for Georgia students and their families who depend on lottery funding for their education. And that’s a gamble worth taking.

Categories: Education, Features