RALEIGH, N.C. — Madi Williams, 21, spends her days selling lottery tickets at TAZ’s Supermarket One convenience store in downtown Raleigh. She sees a steady stream of customers daily, but she’s not one of them.
“Everyone who’s above 40 comes in every day and spends like $80 on lottery tickets. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “Never really young people, I’m not interested either and I’ve never thought about why.”
Getting younger adults interested in a 40-year-old industry — where arguably the biggest product innovation was the advent of the scratch card in 1987 — is a challenge for lottery leaders worldwide.
“It’s being constantly talked about,” said North Carolina Education Lottery Director Alice Garland.
Even when the power ball jackpot hit $500 million, Garland couldn’t excite her three kids, ages 29, 30, and 33 at the chance to win big.
“I can’t interest my children in it,” she said. “I have to threaten them within an inch of their life to go by a $2 ticket. It’s $2. Go buy a ticket. Please, I’m begging you.”
In the U.S., state lotteries are trying to engage 20- and 30-somethings with new phone apps, websites and altruistic cause-based campaigning. But it’s a gradual evolution.
“(The) U.S. is behind the rest of the world on technological innovation,” said Don Feeney, research and planning director of Minnesota’s lottery.
Lotteries in the U.K. and Canada have been selling lottery tickets online for nearly a decade.
A quarter of lottery players in the U.K. are between the ages of 16 and 24 and register for lottery games and tickets online, according to Camelot Business Solutions, which operates lotteries in the U.K. The lottery is working on adding instant win games to their digital offerings.
“We are trying to attract this demographic by offering players an enhanced and regularly refreshed range of games, and focusing on innovation to better reflect people’s changing lifestyles and shopping habits,” said Laura Pearson, a spokeswoman for Camelot Business Solutions.
Of those who play lotteries across the country, people between the ages of 25 and 34 routinely participate the least.
“It’s always been the case that the sweet spot for lottery demographics comes into play after the age of 30,” said Paul Jason, CEO of the Public Gaming Institute.
Young adults have never been a top-buying demographic, Jason said. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings have grown up in a digital age and expect a different entertainment experience than past generations.
Tying lotteries to charity is a new, appealing frontier if Illinois Lottery Director Michael Jones has it pegged.
“Young adults really care about causes, they really want to help things they believe in and causes they believe in,” he said.
Illinois has games that direct money to the Special Olympics, Breast Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis research and has seen more sales among younger people with those games, Jones said. North Carolina’s lottery benefits education.
Younger players may come to the lottery only if their friends come, too. The games need to be more social, Feeney said.
“You’re talking about a generation of pack animals,” Feeney said. “They were looking for games that they can play with their friends and by and large that’s not the lottery or the way the lottery is being portrayed.”
Of 9 million Illinois lottery players, only 174,000 have downloaded a new phone app introduced in January, according to the lottery.
While the lottery continues to grow in North Carolina — sales reached $1.8 billion in fiscal 2014 — the state is not the apex of technological gambling innovation.
“North Carolina is definitely not going to be on the forefront of that,” Garland said.
A lottery phone app or online lottery games and ticket sales are a long way off, she said. The North Carolina lottery is trying to entice new players with new twists on traditional lottery products, and more focused marketing.
If 20- and 30-somethings don’t start participating more heavily in lotteries, the industry’s future could be at risk.
“You’ll eventually be in the same position as horse racing,” said Illinois lottery director Jones. “We’ve got to think beyond instant tickets and terminal-based drawings and at think about what technology and imagination can create.”