ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — The New Mexico Lottery needs to catch up with the mobile revolution if it wants to attract the next generation of players and raise more money for the lottery scholarship program, the head of the gaming agency told lawmakers Thursday.
Lottery CEO David Barden and state Higher Education Deputy Secretary Glenn Walters testified before the legislative Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee on the status of the popular scholarship program.
Without boosting sales, they echoed the concerns many have had about the solvency of the program as tuition increases and demand for financial assistance grows.
More than $40 million was raised for college students during the last fiscal year, and lottery officials say they're on track to raise nearly $43 million during the next budget year.
Tapping into the spending habits of younger people will be key, Barden said, pointing to efforts in Minnesota and other states where players can purchase tickets at the gas pump or online.
While more than 80 percent of tickets are sold at convenience stores, Barden said statistics show about 73 percent of people who stop for gas never go inside and that amounts to lost opportunity.
"Convenience is very important to this group — the millennials — so we have to come to them; they're not going to come to us," he said. "That's one of the things we need to think about in the future."
Part of the problem is some of the lottery statutes were enacted years ago, before smartphones, tablets and debit cards became fixtures. Updating those statutes would give the lottery more flexibility, officials said.
The lottery is also working on boosting marketing this next year with more television and radio spots and online ads.
Increasing prize payouts could also result in more sales, Barden said.
State law requires at least 30 percent of lottery proceeds go to the scholarship program. However, lottery sales have declined seven out of the last 10 years.
Changes to the scholarship program were enacted earlier this year to shore up its finances. Lawmakers also earmarked a portion of liquor tax money to keep the program solvent temporarily.
The scholarships previously covered 100 percent of tuition, but now students receive the average tuition for the type of college they're attending or full tuition at their school if it's lower than the average.
The Higher Education Department said about half of the students who receive the lottery scholarship attend research universities — the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech. Less than 10 percent attend community colleges.