New Jersey voters approved a state lottery in 1969, and the first ticket was sold at the end of 1970. This month, the lottery celebrates the 50th anniversary of the referendum that approved the third lottery in the United States. An astonishing 81.5 percent of voters approved, making it one of the largest favorable public responses in New Jersey legislative history. And it’s paid off, bringing in $28 billion for education and the state pension system.
“The goal was to establish a state lottery similar to those conducted in neighboring states and abroad,” said New Jersey Lottery’s Executive Director James Carey in a release. “The New Hampshire and New York lotteries had been quickly embraced by their communities, and it wasn’t surprising considering what else was happening in the world at the time. American Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon in 1969, and later that summer, the Woodstock Festival attracted nearly half a million people for a weekend celebrating music. People were very open to change and possibility.”
During its first seven months, the New Jersey Lottery produced ticket sales of $72.7 million. The first full fiscal year was 1972, which produced sales of $137.5 million, said lottery spokeswoman, Missy Gillespie.
The original hope was that the lottery would generate about $12 million annually. There’s no way voters could have foreseen that revenues would exceed $28.1 billion over the next 50 years, continuing to make New Jersey a great place to live, work, and raise a family, Carey said.
“The lottery has been a success in the state but will never give the casino industry a run for the money,” said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University. “But the one does not threaten the other. Since the two cater to very different market segments, there does not appear to have been any visible impact after casinos opened.”
The New Jersey Lottery and casinos have historically offered distinct products that don’t directly compete with each other. “As long as they maintain distinctive products and consumer experiences they will continue to thrive,” Pandit said.
But as both the lottery and casino industry add new gaming products, people should expect to see some overlap and potentially some competition (see QuickPick in the Lottery and Keno in the casinos, he said).
The U.S. has a long history with lotteries, stretching back to the original 13 colonies, where lotteries were established to raise revenues for schools and universities. In 1823, Congress approved a private lottery with proceeds used to beautify Washington, D.C. However, the love affair with lotteries followed a tumultuous path, with breakups and makeups playing out over the years. By 1910, almost all types of gambling were illegal in the U.S. The first modern state lottery didn’t appear until 1964 in New Hampshire, followed in 1967 by a second state lottery in New York.
That’s all changed now. To date, 46 states and the District of Columbia operate lotteries. Mississippi is the latest, with scratch-off ticket sales starting this month and sales of Powerball and Mega Millions starting in January. There are over 200 lotteries worldwide; the New Jersey Lottery is ranked ninth in U.S. total sales and 23rd worldwide.
Since its inception, Jersey’s lottery has been a significant economic engine, and its fifth-largest revenue producer.
As of fiscal year 2019, the lottery has raised more than $2.1 billion for pensions. The revenue helps out the public employee pension system for teachers, police and fire personnel and other public employees, as well as supporting businesses and communities throughout New Jersey. Agriculture, education, human services, and military and veterans’ affairs also benefit.
The New Jersey Lottery also achieved the World Lottery Association’s Level 4 Certification in Responsible Gaming, the most comprehensive measure in the industry.
“Originally the New Jersey Lottery benefitted education and institutions,” Gillespie said. “In July 2017, the New Jersey legislature passed bipartisan legislation that was signed into law by Governor Christie, creating the Lottery Enterprise Contribution Act (LECA). Under the law, lottery net proceeds will be used to bolster New Jersey’s pension system for public workers. The LECA will provide ongoing fiscal stability and growth potential to the state’s retirement systems until 2047.”