RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- People spent $3.8 billion buying lottery tickets in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic -- from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) said those sales represented a 26 percent increase from the year before.
That increase in spending on the lottery came while a record number of North Carolinians lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
As of February, the NC Division of Employment Security had paid out more than $10 billion in unemployment benefits to 962,556 claimants since March 15, 2020.
Unemployment rate from June 2020-October 2020
Since early 2020, more than 1 million North Carolinians have caught COVID-19 and 13,635 have died from the virus.
NCEL Executive Director Mark Michalko said people turned to lottery games when they had few other options. He said as more places reopen across the state he expects lottery sales to slow.
In fiscal year 2021, the lottery reallocated the $3.8 billion spent into the hands of a smaller pool of winners, paying out $2.4 billion.
It also collected $936 million to support education programs across the state. North Carolina lawmakers are tasked each year with distributing those funds to schools and education programs across the state.
Since the lottery was approved in March 2006, it has contributed $8.2 billion to education programs in North Carolina.
NC Education Lottery sees record ticket sales during COVID-19 pandemic