Jackpots in the multistate lottery games sold in New Jersey are being shrunk due to a drop in sales attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Powerball used to start its prize at $40 million and increase it by $10 million or more per drawing. Mega Millions had been starting at $40 million and hiking it by $5 million per draw. Now those guarantees are scrapped, with lottery officials instead setting the prize based on sales and interest rates.

The state Lottery Commission met Tuesday to adopt the changes for Mega Millions, which had been approved by the multistate game on Friday.

“These game rules that we are approving today are being approved as a result of what’s going on with the COVID virus, but they are permanent game rule changes,” said James Carey, executive director of the New Jersey Lottery.

Carey said Mega Millions jackpots might start at $20 million but that it’s to be determined.

“This move was done in response to lower sales as a result of the COVID emergency and to give the Mega Millions consortium the flexibility to set jackpots at a level that was appropriate based on sales for the game,” he said.

Carey said sales data for March will be available at the commission’s regular April 16 meeting.

“But I have seen and gotten a good sense that sales are down for the month of March at least 10% overall,” he said. “On a weekly basis, it might be a little different. But sales are down for the New Jersey Lottery and for all lotteries national.”

Sales are down even though the Powerball is at $190 million and Mega Millions is at $127 million.

“People are still buying Mega Millions tickets, but the sales are not where we would expect them to be,” Carey said.

Peter Sullivan, the chief executive officer of Jackpocket, the first registered lottery courier service in New Jersey, said the state lottery should consider allowing courier service for New Jersey’s daily games: Pick-3, Pick-4 and Jersey Cash 5. It is currently available for the twice-a-week Pick-6 and multistate games.

“We’ve had hundreds if not thousands of people reach out to us asking us if they could be offered those games as a safe, alternative way during COVID-19,” Sullivan said.

Carey said the idea is being considered.

“We are at the lottery looking and considering all options and a lot of options that we need to consider how to conduct our operations as safely as possible, how to continue generating revenue for the state and how to protect the safety of employees at the New Jersey Lottery,” he said.

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