North Carolina Instant Lottery Hits Billion-Dollar Sales Milestone in Seven Months

Since the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) introduced online instants last November, North Carolinians have spent over $1 billion on digital scratch tickets. According to lottery officials, North Carolina hit the billion-dollar milestone in almost seven months—faster than any other US state with similar products, often known as eInstants.

North Carolina’s digital scratch-off success is the cherry on top of recent financials, including a respectable $1.5 billion in online sports betting wagers since March’s mobile betting launch. Lottery officials presented the numbers to lottery commission members during committee meetings last week.

As reported by WRAL News, through May, NCEL earned upwards of $4.8 billion in sales across all products—$857 million over comparable 2023 revenues. Officials reported that physical scratch tickets make up 55% of North Carolina lottery sales. Now, only seven months in, digital instants already account for 19% of all lotto purchases.

North Carolinian’s embrace of  “the next best thing” to legal online casinos has paid off for the state so far. However, the local appetite for digital instants raises questions about how much revenue—and state tax—North Carolina could earn with legal online slots and table games.

North Carolina’s Lottery Enjoys Record-Breaking 2023

In fiscal year 2023, the NCEL generated a record $4.3 billion in revenue, which provided over $1 billion in educational funding. That was an increase of 13% over the previous record, set the year before.

According to current forecasts, lottery officials expect revenue to continue setting records, partly due to the introduction of instant scratch games. NCEL told Bonus it currently offers 23 digital scratch-offs, two of which feature a progressive jackpot.

In fact, the commission has said launching digital instants was “necessary” to keep growing lotto revenues—and education funding—in the state.

During Wednesday’s meeting, NCEL’s deputy executive director of finance, Greg Bowers, discussed the games’ importance to state coffers.

The launch of digital instant games has been the catalyst this year to allow us to post year-over year revenue gains. As we’ve been predicting, that growth in traditional lottery games that we’ve seen would slow or become negative at some point. That time is now.

The $1 Billion Digital Scratch Card Sales Milestone

According to an April report from NC Newsline, more than 147,000 players have partaken in North Carolina’s digital instant games since their November launch. In the first three-and-a-half months, 22,000 new players joined the lottery’s online platform.

Per WRAL, through May 2024, North Carolina’s sales of digital instants topped $943 million, with 68% of purchases stemming from the mobile app. Between the app and the lottery website, eInstants earned over $122 million, exceeding NCEL’s revenue projections by almost $100 million.

Though higher than expected, these early results align with existing data from other states, which indicates digital instants generate most iLotto revenues.

Notably, NCEL based its projections on revenue data from other eInstant states, including Georgia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The data showed that when measured against Keno and draw games, eInstants drive anywhere from 68% of online lottery sales (Georgia) to 98% (Pennsylvania).

Online Casinos Top Online Lottery Sales

While these results bode well for future NCEL growth, they also prompt questions about the money left on the table without legal online casinos.

For example, in Pennsylvania, where digital instants earn the majority of online lottery revenue, iLottery only brought in roughly $80 million in monthly sales (so far) in 2024. By contrast, Pennsylvania’s online slots have earned over $3 billion in wagers each month this year to date.

Michigan is another state offering both iLottery and online casinos. Michiganders placed approximately $60 billion in online casino wagers in 2023, based on $1.92 billion in reported gross revenue and assuming a typical 3.25% online casino hold rate.

During the same year, iLottery sales came in just shy of $1.8 billion. So, in Michigan, online casinos account for roughly 30 times more wagers and subsequent revenues, adding heft to state coffers. In revenue terms, however, the difference is only a factor of 10, with $200 million in net win for the online lottery compared to iGaming’s $1.9 billion. This is because lottery products return less prize money to the players.

North Carolina probably won’t rush into an online casino debate immediately after launching online sports betting and instant lottery. However, given the state’s position, it’s probable that legal online casinos will be considered down the road.

The situation is similar outside of North Carolina; currently, online casinos are legal in only seven US states. Meanwhile, legal online sportsbooks operate in 30 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico.

Since the beginning of legal online gambling in the US, Americans have recently hit a milestone—$1 trillion in all-time total online wagers made as of mid-May. While revenues from online casinos, sports betting, and poker contributed to the historic amount, data shows online casinos drove two-thirds of the US’s total online wagers.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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