(The Center Square) – Digital lottery games in North Carolina have come to the rescue to more than offset sagging sales of traditional lottery tickets.

Without the new digital games, which can be played online without having to go to a store to purchase a ticket, state lottery revenues probably would have dropped so far this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Through May, total lottery sales in North Carolina were $4.9 billion, $857.3 million higher than the same date last year, thanks in large part to digital games, lottery officials said.

May numbers tell the story of the success of digital games.

In May, total lottery sales were $534.7 million which was $176.2 million or 49.2% higher than last year, thanks in part to digital games, lottery officials said. Scratch-off ticket sales were $245 million in May, down $10 million or 3.9%. Sales of tickets for the so called “draw” games such as Powerball and Megamillions were down $5 million.

“The launch of Digital Instant games has been instrumental for us to be able to see year-over-year revenue gains,” Greg Bowers, the lottery’s deputy executive director of finance, administration and security told the state lottery board this week. “We had been predicting that sales had peaked in traditional lottery sales or would slow. That time is now.”

The entire U.S. lottery industry is experiencing a slowdown in traditional lottery ticket sales, he added.

“We are not immune to the current trends we are seeing out there across the country,” Bowers said. “However, with the introduction of Digital Instant we have mitigated those losses and increased overall sales revenue. Without Digital Instant, total sales for traditional lottery games are lower than last year.”

So far this fiscal year, sales of scratch off tickets are $2.7 billion, a decrease of 2.1% from the same period last year.

Profits from the lottery are used for education, including pre-K programs, college scholarships and school construction. The lottery has raised more than $10 billion for education since it was launched in 2006, according to the commission.

In March, legalized sports betting kicked off in North Carolina and so far has generated $42 million in revenue for the state.

By law, that revenue must be used for gambling education and addiction programs, youth sports and public-school college athletics.

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