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What is the history of the Virginia Lottery?

The Virginia Lottery has a long and interesting history dating back to the 1980s. In this article, we will explore the key events and milestones in the Virginia Lottery’s development over the past few decades. We will look at when and why the lottery was first established, discuss some of the major games and innovations introduced by the Virginia Lottery, and highlight some of the key revenue and profit figures. We will also touch on some of the controversies and criticisms faced by the lottery during its lifespan. Overall, this article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the major aspects of the Virginia Lottery’s origins and evolution since its inception.

Founding of the Virginia Lottery

The Virginia Lottery was formally established in 1987 through a statewide referendum. The push to establish a lottery in Virginia began in the 1970s, when voters rejected a proposal to allow charitable gaming and sweepstakes. In 1984, voters approved a referendum to amend the state’s constitution to allow a state-run lottery. The amendment specified that lottery proceeds would fund education in the state.

After the constitutional amendment passed, the Virginia General Assembly moved quickly to establish a state-run lottery. The Virginia Lottery Act was passed in 1987, officially creating the Virginia Lottery. The original mission of the Virginia Lottery was to generate funds for Virginia’s public schools K-12. The lottery began selling tickets on September 20, 1988 with a weekly drawing known as Lotto Virginia.

Key Milestones

Here are some key milestones in the early years of the Virginia Lottery:

1987 Virginia Lottery Act passed establishing the Virginia Lottery
September 20, 1988 First lottery tickets sold in Virginia
October 3, 1988 First Lotto Virginia drawing held
December 5, 1989 Virginia Lottery launches first instant scratcher game
May 21, 1990 Virginia Lottery holds first daily Pick 3 drawing
August 8, 1993 Virginia Lottery launches Cash 5 game
May 15, 2000 Rolling Cash 5 replaces Cash 5

As we can see, the Virginia Lottery started out with the weekly Lotto Virginia game in 1988, followed by instant scratcher games in 1989. Daily games like Pick 3 were added in 1990, and further draw games like Cash 5 came in 1993. The lottery offerings continued to expand over its first decade.

Revenue and Profit Figures

The Virginia Lottery has delivered significant revenue to education funding in the state over the years. Here are some key stats on Virginia Lottery revenues and profits:

Total revenue since inception (as of 2022) $35 billion
Fiscal year 2022 revenue $3.4 billion
Fiscal year 2022 profit $779 million
Percentage of revenue returned as profit in FY 2022 23%
Amount contributed to education in FY 2022 $779 million
Total amount contributed to education since inception $11 billion

As we can see from the figures, the Virginia Lottery has generated over $35 billion in revenue since starting ticket sales in 1988. In fiscal year 2022 (July 2021 – June 2022), revenue was $3.4 billion, with $779 million returned as profit directed to educational programs. Throughout its history, the Virginia Lottery has provided over $11 billion in funding for preK-12 education in the state. The lottery has maintained a relatively consistent 23% profit margin in recent years.

Major Games and Innovations

The Virginia Lottery has introduced a number of popular jackpot games and scratcher games over the years. Here are some of the major game innovations and launches:

Lotto Virginia

Lotto Virginia was the original jackpot game offered when the lottery began in 1988. It started as a weekly drawing game, switching to twice weekly drawings in 1992. Lotto Virginia draws 6 numbers from 1-44, and also features a Cash Option for taking a one-time cash prize instead of annuity payments. Over the years, Lotto Virginia has created over 100 millionaires and awarded over $1.3 billion in prizes.

Mega Millions

In 1996, Virginia became one of the original member lotteries when the multi-state Mega Millions game launched. Mega Millions helped drive Virginia Lottery revenues to new heights by offering larger starting jackpots and secondary prizes. The game features a minimum $20 million starting jackpot that rolls over if not won, creating huge jackpots. The Virginia Lottery has sold winning tickets for massive Mega Millions jackpots of $239 million in 2004 and $330 million in 2008.


Virginia joined the multi-state Powerball game in 2010, further boosting lottery revenues by offering another popular national jackpot game. Powerball also routinely produces giant jackpots worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The biggest Powerball jackpot won in Virginia was a $259.9 million prize claimed in 2014.

Scratcher Games

Virginia Lottery scratcher games have been popular since their 1989 launch. These tickets offer instant prize gratification and frequent new themes, prize levels, and gameplay innovations. Top-selling Virginia scratchers include games themed around poker, bingo, crossword puzzles, and licensed brands like Monopoly and Tetris. Popular scratcher features include bonus spots, match three symbols, and second chance drawings. Limited edition seasonal and holiday scratchers are also released annually.

Daily Games

For players who enjoy frequent wins, Virginia offers a variety of daily drawing games. Pick 3 and Pick 4 were launched in 1990, allowing players to pick three or four digit numbers to match against daily drawings. Cash 5 began in 1993 and was replaced by Rolling Cash 5 in 2000, providing a match 5 of 43 game with better prize payouts. The Virginia Lottery has also offered numerous short-term or seasonal daily games over the years.

Major Controversies and Criticisms

While generating significant funding for education, the Virginia Lottery’s operations have not been without controversies over the decades:

Instant Games Criticism

Scratcher games tend to offer relatively low payout percentages compared to draw games, leading to criticism that they exploit those most vulnerable to gambling addiction. Scratchers have more addictive qualities compared to periodic jackpot games. Critics argue the instant gratification of scratchers leads to overspending.

Disproportionate Spending by Lower Income Groups

Studies have found lottery ticket sales tend to be higher in lower income neighborhoods. Some argue this is an exploitative tax on the poor. Proponents counter that playing the lottery is a personal choice that is not mandatory.

Reduction in General Fund Appropriations

There have been concerns that legislators have reduced general fund appropriations for education relying on lottery funds to make up the difference. This could negate the intended benefits of supplementing education budgets with lottery profits.

Lack of Funds for General Operating Expenses

School districts note that lottery funds can only be used for capital expenditures like buildings, but not ongoing operating costs. This limits the benefits of the additional education funding. Districts still face unfunded operational shortfalls.

False Perception of Increased Spending on Education

Critics argue the lottery gives the false public impression that large amounts are being spent on education, when funds may simply be displacing rather than supplementing existing budgets.

Disproportionate Funds to Wealthier Districts

Poorer districts with lower property tax bases argue the lottery funding formula favors wealthier districts that can raise matching local funds for construction projects. Poorer districts end up receiving disproportionately less lottery funding relative to their needs.

While the merits and criticisms of the Virginia Lottery can be debated, the additional funding it has provided for education is undeniable. With lottery profits making up just over 10% of Virginia’s yearly education budget, the lottery has clearly had a measurable impact on education spending over the past 35 years.

Recent Developments

Here are some notable developments for the Virginia Lottery in more recent years:

Record Profits

The Virginia Lottery has hit new heights in terms of annual profits in recent years. Profits reached a record $650 million in FY 2020. FY 2022 profits were $779 million, a new record. These profit milestones reflect continued growth driven by a wide range of lottery offerings.

Launch of iLottery

In 2020, the Virginia Lottery launched iLottery, allowing players to purchase tickets online for draw games as well as instant win games mimicking physical scratchers. The convenience of iLottery helped revenues continue growing despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Virginia joined 14 other states in offering an iLottery platform.

Expansion of Charitable Gaming

In 2020, the Virginia Charitable Gaming Board was established to provide greater oversight of charitable gaming and authorize more types of charitable gambling in the state. This expanded charitable gaming into historical horse racing machines. While separate from the lottery, this expanded gaming options in Virginia alongside the traditional lottery.

Growth of Instant Ticket Offerings

The Virginia Lottery has focused heavily on its instant ticket portfolio, recognizing the importance of scratchers for revenue and profits. The lottery has sought to enhance scratcher games with more dynamic prizes, bonus features, and innovative themes to maintain interest. Holiday games and licensed brand tie-ins have also been used successfully to market instant ticket offerings.

Increased Jackpot Game Synergies

With dual membership in Mega Millions and Powerball, the Virginia Lottery cross-promotes these massive jackpot games to generate publicity and drive interest in both. Coordinated leadership between the member lotteries helps maximize revenues from these inter-state jackpot games.

The Future of the Virginia Lottery

What might the future hold for the Virginia Lottery as it enters its fourth decade? Here are some possibilities:

Expanded iLottery Offerings

The Virginia Lottery seems likely to continue expanding its iLottery platform by adding more online instant win games and potentially introducing internet-based interactive casino games. iLottery provides convenience and customization that appeals to tech-savvy players.

Increased Jackpot Game Collaboration

Joint jackpot games may continue to grow. Possibilities include a shared national instant win scratcher game among multiple states, or a third nationwide jackpot game alongside Mega Millions and Powerball. This could further boost Virginia Lottery’s jackpot potential.

Direct Retailer Tablet Sales

The Virginia Lottery may eventually implement instant ticket sales at retailer locations using electronic tablets, rather than paper scratcher cards. This could cut printing costs while still providing the instant game experience. It would carry some technical and regulatory hurdles.

Self-Service Ticket Vending

Lower cost vending machines for purchasing lottery tickets with cash or credit cards could be placed in high traffic locations like supermarkets and gas stations, for added convenience to players. Regulatory changes likely would be needed to allow less regulated self-service sale of tickets.

Enhanced Responsible Gaming Features

The Virginia Lottery will likely continue enhancing responsible gaming elements like voluntary spending limits, age gating for certain games, and problem gambling resources. A delicate balance between profitability and responsible gaming considerations will remain.

Direct Digital Payment Options

Allowing lottery players to fund their accounts using digital currencies, in addition to existing cash and credit card options, may eventually emerge. This depends on mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies and associated regulatory considerations.


Over the past 35 years, the Virginia Lottery has succeeded in its mission of generating significant supplemental funding for education in the state. After a modest start offering a single weekly jackpot game in 1988, the Virginia Lottery has grown into a $3 billion a year enterprise offering diverse draw games, scratchers, and iLottery options. Ongoing responsible management and innovation around games, technology, marketing, and operations will be key to the lottery’s continued growth and success in its fourth decade and beyond. While not without valid criticisms around disproportionate spending and perceptions of education funding, the Virginia Lottery seems firmly entrenched as a major source of state education revenues for the foreseeable future.