By John Toole
---- — New Hampshire lottery players clearly have an itch to scratch.
The lottery reported $16.9 million in instant ticket sales for March, a record for a non-holiday month.
The old record for a non-holiday month stood exactly six years. It was March 2007 when the lottery collected $16.6 million from instant games.
“March was a great month for lottery ticket sales and an exceptional month for the state of New Hampshire as robust instant ticket sales translated into increased revenue for education,” executive director Charlie McIntyre said in announcing the record.
If New Hampshire keeps up the current sales pace, it could be a record year.
Scratch ticket sales are running 11 percent ahead of last fiscal year, lottery officials said.
Lottery spokesman Maura McCann credited bigger prizes, new games and a 10 percent sales commission to lottery agents as factors driving the increase.
“We have increased prize payouts for players and we’ve freshened up our product line by launching new games at the beginning of every month — both of which are getting great feedback from players,” McCann said.
The lottery had not compiled county figures, but McCann said the increase is across the state.
“Sales follow population,” so Rockingham County would rank among the best in the state, McCann said.
U.S. Census figures put Rockingham as New Hampshire’s second most populated county behind Hillsborough.
The lottery’s highest monthly sales record for scratch tickets is December 2006, when players spent $20 million. The lottery typically sees big numbers when people give lottery tickets for gifts in December.
Jeff Casale of Lawrence, buying a scratch ticket in Windham yesterday at Oasis Gas and Mini Mart, said he’s not surprised people are buying more instant tickets.
“Not at all,” he said.
Casale said he plays instant games in both states, but will spend more in Massachusetts.
“I hope to make it big one day,” Casale said.
Down the road at Klemm’s Mobil in Windham, manager Chris Klemm acknowledged scratch sales are good.
“We sell a lot,” Klemm said.
A sign over the register read, “We had a $200,000 instant scratch winner Tuesday, March 5.”
Klemm said the winner came in the $10 Topaz 10s game, out of a fresh book the lottery had just delivered.
“It was in the very first book. She hit on Wednesday,” Klemm said. “I think she was a little more than shocked.”
Frank Bellistri of Windham was at Klemm’s counter collecting a small prize from the $100,000 Grant game, which features an image of President Ulysses S. Grant on the scratch ticket.
“I just bought one the other day and won, so I got another,” Bellistri said, conceding he rarely plays. “I’m just hoping I win. I give it to my wife, Ruth.”
Gary Labrie of Concord arrived at the Klemm’s Mobil counter and asked for three tickets.
“I usually buy two $1 tickets,” Labrie said. “I’m not a big spender.”
He admitted he was surprised about the March scratch revenues.
“That’s strange, the way the economy is,” Labrie said.
Steve Diggins of Bedford stopped into the store on the way to work in Salem.
He bought a $5 ticket. He said he picks tickets on a whim, sometimes choosing a game by the color of the ticket.
Diggins said there’s a reason more people are scratching these days.
“You hear about it more,” he said. “There’s a lot more social media.”
Playing the lottery is a family affair for the Digginses.
“We buy a lot of tickets for people’s birthdays,” he said.
Then relatives reciprocate.
“We have family send us tickets from all around the country,” he said.
It was quiet on the lottery front at Stateline Paysaver in Salem at midday, but clerks acknowledged scratch ticket sales are on the rise.
The Betty Boop game is popular at the store. Winning tickets adorned the counter area, which included a small sign reporting a $200 winner. “Oh, Betty,” it read. Another, next to a $200 winning ticket from the Monopoly game read, “Lucky store.”
New Hampshire uses the lottery to support education.
Games have contributed $1.5 billion toward education since the state launched the lottery nearly 50 years ago.