Georgia Lottery chief Margaret DeFrancisco tries to stay ahead of the pack.
In the lottery’s sprawling downtown offices, DeFrancisco wheels around on a kid’s scooter with a bell on the handlebars so she can avoid “close calls” with the walking crowd. And with the pressure mounting as demand for lottery revenue for HOPE scholarships and pre-k outstrips its growth, she’s searching for new sources of money.
Down the road, DeFrancisco said, don’t be surprised if interactive lottery games appear on one of your mobile devices. A national drawing, possibly one big pop a year with a huge payoff, also has been talked about among lottery chiefs around the country, she said.
Oops. DeFrancisco then clammed up during our interview last week.
“I’m way out there. I’m probably on a limb and I’m probably sawing it,” said DeFrancisco, president of the lottery industry’s trade group.
Last week, the Georgia Lottery reported a 12th straight year of raising more money for HOPE and pre-k than it did the previous year. But despite the 1.4 percent increase to $884 million, the demands on the funds are growing faster, making future cuts in HOPE likely.
“We are at a crossroads to keep this whole thing moving,” DeFrancisco, 61, said. “We have to offer fun, relevant, exciting products constantly.”
That means coming up with new games to keep players’ interest. For example, Georgia and 10 other states joined the Powerball drawing this year, bringing the total to 44 lotteries. At the same time, Mega Millions, which Georgia already participated in, grew from 12 to 42 lotteries.
“I pitched the heck out of this thing” with her counterparts in other locales, DeFrancisco said. The reason — more participating states mean larger jackpots, which will attract additional ticket buyers.
The lottery’s sweet spot, she said, is offering a jackpot of at least $100 million. That threshold was crossed 27 times since Powerball and Mega Millions expanded earlier this year — up from only 12 times during a comparable period last year.
Besides new games, DeFrancisco and her team need to get the “product mix” right so they can transfer the most money to HOPE and pre-k. Instant scratch-off games pay out between 52 percent and 78 percent to the winners, while drawings pay out about 50 percent.
“It’s a very delicate balance … to maximize the experience for the players and maximize the profit for HOPE and pre-k,” DeFrancisco said.
While trying to come up with that balance, she has been criticized for what some see as an imbalance — $2.7 million in bonuses that she and the other 280 lottery employees received at a time of big education cuts.
DeFrancisco defends the incentive payments, saying the lottery operates like a private company that needs to reward salespeople and marketers to stimulate the most revenue. While this issue is not going away, the money represents less than one-tenth of a percent of the $3.6 billion in revenue.
There’s a bigger issue: “Everyone wants to send their kids to pre-k and college for free,” she said. “What will take us to the next level and keep us relevant?”
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