Looking Back At 50 Years Of The Rhode Island Lottery

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the US, but it has a large lottery history.

Last month, the Rhode Island Lottery celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Through the last 50 years, the state has been part of a lot of milestones in the industry.

From its first ticket in 1974, to launching the Rhode Island online lottery in 2020, it has created many memories.

Through it all, Rhode Island Lottery Marketing Manager Melissa Juhnowski told PlayiLottery the most important thing is the relationship the lottery has created with its customer base:

“The Rhode Island Lottery has a great relationship with the residents of the state. We have operated the last 50 years with integrity and the state’s best interests in mind, with the goal of providing innovative and entertaining games while generating revenue for Rhode Island. We listen to the players’ feedback regarding games, products, and promotions they like, and also the information they want to see.”

A timeline of Rhode Island Lottery history

It was in November 1973 when an amendment was passed to create a lottery in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Lottery would then officially debut on May 21, 1974.

Its first game, “The Lot,” sold for 50 cents. The inaugural drawing took place on May 30, 1974, at the State House, with nearly 1,000 people in attendance.

The rest, as they say, is history.

There were a number of big moments over the last 50 years for the Rhode Island Lottery. Here’s a look at just a few:

1975: The RI Lottery begins partnering with local radio and television stations to broadcast drawings and report winning numbers. In August, the first televised lottery show aired in Rhode Island, called “LOTTO.”

1976: Rhode Island launched its first instant ticket in May, called “Play Ball.” The popularity of the game withstood decades, as it still exists today as a $1 instant game simply called “Baseball.”

1978: For sales of “Numbers Game,” one of the state’s draw games, the Rhode Island Lottery began using retail terminals that communicated with a central host.

1981: The Rhode Island Lottery debuted its first jackpot game, “4/40 Jackpot.”

1987: In December, the Rhode Island Lottery was among the founding members of the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL). The group was formed to allow states to come together for multistate draw games with larger jackpots. It started with Lotto America in early 1988, which was eventually switched to Powerball in 1992.

1992: State legislation passes allowing video lottery terminals (VLTs) to operate in Rhode Island. They would be placed at the state’s two pari-mutuel facilities – Lincoln Park and Newport Jai Alai.

1992: Rhode Island also becomes the second state to launch Keno. Two days after it began, a $100,000 prize was awarded.

1999: The Rhode Island Lottery website launches.

2005: The Rhode Island Lottery debuts its VIP Club program, which still exists today.

2018: Sports betting is legalized in the state in June, and is regulated by the Rhode Island Lottery.

2020: The Rhode Island Lottery begins offering eInstant games on its mobile app and computers. These instant-win games online started selling in May as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key statistics from the 50th anniversary of the RI Lottery

There’s been a lot of sales and prizes over 50 years of the Rhode Island Lottery.

Here are some of the notable figures from the state:

  • $57 billion: Total prize dollars awarded by the Rhode Island Lottery in its history.
  • $9 billion: Number of dollars transferred to the State General Fund.
  • $6 billion: Commission dollars awarded to retailers over the last 50 years.
  • $336.4 million: Largest jackpot won by a Rhode Island resident. Louise White won the Powerball jackpot in 2012, a record for the game at the time.
  • 1,200: Total retailers and vendors to receive a commission from the Rhode Island Lottery.

While the Rhode Island Lottery doesn’t spell out a clear lifetime sales total, the State General Fund received 8.26% of all sales as of FY23.

With the fund totaling $9 billion over its lifetime, that would put historic lottery sales comfortably over $108 billion for the state’s history.

When it comes to per-capita sales, Rhode Island is among the nation’s leaders. According to The Hill, in 2020 the state ranked third in lottery spend per person at $429.88. Only Massachusetts ($805.30) and New York ($455.93) ranked higher.

Lottery still growing each year

Over 50 years of operation, the Rhode Island Lottery has evolved with the constant changes in technology.

At the midway point of its existence, in 1999, the Rhode Island Lottery website debuted during its 25th anniversary.

Over time, the state continued to add new games, new price points, and new opportunities for its players.

Now, with four years of iLottery under its belt, Rhode Island has quickly become among the most diverse lotteries in the US. That’s something Juhnowski says will continue to be the case in the future:

“We continue to plan and expand, now working on a platform upgrade for our website and mobile app to allow players to buy even more of our products online, and also get some fun convenience features, like scanning tickets to enter 2nd Chances.”

The state plans to continue to build on its product through its lottery app, while also adding to its retail and online gaming libraries.

FY23 saw Rhode Island set a record for yearly traditional lottery sales at $316.3 million. It is on pace to surpass that in FY24. This year, the state is averaging $27.1 million per month in traditional sales, with 10 months of data available. That would put it at $325 million for the year.

It’s clear that big things are still happening for the Rhode Island Lottery after 50 years and will likely continue to happen as it works toward approaching 100 years.


Photo by Talaj via Shutterstock
Graphic from the Rhode Island Lottery

About the Author

Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis

Lead Writer
A member of Catena Media since 2020, Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer at PlayiLottery, where he handles coverage of the online and retail lottery industry in the US. He previously spearheaded news content at PlayMichigan, where he covered one of the most prominent online lottery industries in the US — among the many other aspects of Michigan's sprawling iGaming market. You can email him at [email protected].
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