US Lottery programs are doing well financially—for now.
State lotteries across the United States raked in $66 billion in 2015, which is the latest year that the US Census has lottery data. Those sales reflect a steady year-to-year increase, but most of the people playing are older.
A 2016 Gallup poll found that almost two-thirds of people between 50 and 64 years old had played the lottery in the previous year, while only about a third of those who are 18–24 had taken part. Local state lotteries have found similar results within their own states.
IGT, a consulting and lobbying group for the gaming industry, released a report in September stating the importance of lottery programs finding new ways to attract millennial players.
According to the report, by 2020, millennials are expected to control $19–$24 trillion of the global economy and almost half of them regularly play games on a computer or smartphone at least once a week.
"Millennials' digital gaming habits are likely to get stronger as they age, neglecting to appeal to them today risks losing this group for the long term," said the report. "But," the report added, "if lotteries are trying to court millennials, they have yet to find success."
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The New York State Lottery, which is the country's largest lottery program in terms of sales, picked up on millennials' love of video games. It recently released a Pac-Man lotto ticket where players scratch away Pac-Man's path until they hit a prize or a ghost. This was promoted through the New York Lottery Facebook page with a Pac-Man browser game.
"We are cognizant of the fact that millennials have diverse interests," said New York Lottery communications director Lee Park in an email. "That's why we have introduced interactive games such as the Pac-Man instant game. But we are not stopping there. The New York Lottery continues to explore the digital gaming sandbox while monitoring how such experiments work in other jurisdictions."
Georgia, which runs the fifth largest US lottery program in terms of sales, introduced smartphone lottery game apps in an attempt to appeal to millennials.
"Like many industries, we are looking to grow our business across all channels. This includes increasing our engagement with millennials," said Georgia Lottery Communications Director Tandi Reddick in an email. "As Georgians, particularly millennials, continue to maintain a relationship with their mobile devices, the Georgia Lottery has introduced mobile-based games that offer various play experiences."
Social media is also seen as a means to draw in the young folks.
"We have found success in reaching millennials through social media platforms, specifically Instagram," wrote Illinois Lottery communications director Jason Schaumburg in an email. "This helps give our brand a fun personality."
Massachusetts has also recently expanded its online presence by hiring its first full-time social media director, who was charged with making the lottery's Twitter and Facebook accounts interact with more customers and potential customers.
The IGT report argued that lotteries should develop competitive components in their games as another means to entice younger players.
"Titles like Clash Royale, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush are just a few of the games that have surged in popularity with this demographic, despite the fact that none of them provide monetary rewards like a lottery game could," said the report.
IGT suggested that lottery programs appeal to the increased level of importance millennials put on live experiences and social causes compared to older generations.
Colorado created an online virtual reality experience that allows users to view some of the state's parks while promoting the fact that lottery revenue goes toward outdoor improvement projects.
"The Colorado Lottery has a unique message that we think will resonate with millennials, which is that we are the only state lottery that reinvests 100 percent of our proceeds to the great outdoors," wrote spokesperson Christian Hawley in an email. "With that being said, we've been working hard to draw new players and millennials—research has shown us that they value experience over things, and with this information in our pocket the Colorado Lottery launched an integrated marketing campaign that offers people the ability to experience (in an immersive virtual reality)—the wonders of the Colorado outdoors."
These efforts didn't seem to have had a massive effect on the millennials I spoke to, though.
"I have dabbled in penny stocks and sports gambling, but this is solely based off algorithms. The lottery relies strictly on luck. I might play more if the odds weren't 1 in 8 million," said Logan Hayes, an undergraduate student at UNC Charleston. "It's absurdly irrational to take that gamble, being in college."
Colleen O'Loughlin, a college graduate who lives in Boston, buys scratch tickets every once in a while, but not as regularly as older family members.
"The odds are against you. The chance of winning is pretty slim," she said. "I never carry cash. It would be much easier if you could use a card."
Convenience and longs odds are also why Jeff Van Dien, of Portland, Oregon, does not regularly play.
"Under normal circumstances, I do not play the lotto. If I happen to be at a convenience store, I may play the state lotto, but even then it's a ridiculous waste of money," he said. "The odds are horrible, and buying at the grocery store is too much of a chore. You have to go through the checkout for groceries, and then wait in line at customer service for a lotto ticket."
Justin Wheeler, who lives outside of Atlanta, said that he might be tempted by an emphasis on video gaming, but he was not sure that he would remain interested in something like that.
"If they were somehow able to make a lottery game that was playable like a video game I might be more likely to try it out, but my assumption is that it wouldn't be something based around skill," said Wheeler. "So, in that case, my chances of continuous play would be very limited."
For a generation that has grown up with constant access to the internet, smartphones and a wider range of gambling options, research on the possible impacts to addiction rates has been far outpaced by research about how best to monetize this demographic, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NIH), which estimated that there are 5.7 million people in America who suffer from gambling-associated disorders and that younger males are often the most prone.
A 2015 study published by the NIH indicated that simply being 18-24 was a leading risk factor for problem gambling among both males and females.
"Right now the gambling industry is desperately trying to find new ways to attract millennials," said Kevin Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "It's a huge issue."
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