LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is under pressure to halt in-store sales of lottery tickets over concerns that lines for them could spread the coronavirus.
State Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, and the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, which represents many store owners, are calling on the Michigan Lottery to halt the sales because it’s difficult for owners to enforce social distancing guidelines.
“That is something we’re taking a very serious look at,” Whitmer said during a televised town hall forum on Thursday.
“It is important though that every single business owner who is selling food or essential needs is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the people who are coming into their stores are standing 6 feet apart.”
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The possibility comes as coronavirus cases in Michigan have nearly tripled in seven days to 12,744, and officials are increasingly frustrated that not enough people are doing their part to slow the spread of the outbreak.
Manoogian told Bridge store owners have told her about “folks … leaving their homes not to purchase essential goods but specifically go out and purchase lottery tickets.”
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the state Lottery Bureau sent notices to the state’s 10,500 retailers with lottery terminals saying they “must immediately cease lottery sales… if you are unable to implement social-distancing measures and follow all requirements of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order.”
Since March 16 — when Whitmer issued the executive order to temporarily close theaters, bars, casinos and dine-in restaurants — 182 retailers have requested the state deactivate their lottery terminals, said Michigan Lottery spokesperson Jeff Holyfield.
More than 60 percent of those requests came on Thursday and Friday, while 30 retailers will be deactivating their terminals on Monday.
“People should not leave their homes just to buy lottery tickets,” Holyfield said. If businesses allow customers to violate social distancing rules, they may lose their right to sell tickets and face other disciplinary measures, he added.
Over that time, lottery sales have taken a significant dive: The week bars, restaurants, theaters and casinos closed, sales fell 28 percent over the previous year. The week the stay-at-home order was implemented, sales were down 35 percent.
But closing lottery sales could hurt state revenue at a time they’re seriously declining because of the lockdown. In 2019, sales of nearly $4 billion funneled about $1 billion into K-12 education.
Whitmer said she’s unaware of other states ending lottery sales, but added “it is something that has been raised and that we are looking very seriously at.”
In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said this week he still hears reports of long lines for lottery tickets, adding “we’ve got to find a way for people not to cluster together.”
Manoogian told Bridge she’s concerned that making it optional for businesses to take machines offline may have the “unintended consequence” of attracting more crowds to the few businesses that continue to sell tickets.
That is why Manoogian said she wants the state to be “a little more consistent and not putting the onus on the store owners” by shutting down sales throughout the stay-at-home order.
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