Chaldean Chamber, elected officials call on state to shut down in-store lottery sales

  • Written by:

Nick Manes 
Chaldean Chamber, state representative call for suspension of in-person lottery sales
Stores can now opt to halt sales, but some want state mandate
Whitmer administration is reviewing the issue

Nick Manes/Crain’s Detroit Business
The Chaldean Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 75 percent and 90 percent of convenience stores in Southeast Michigan are owned by Chaldean Americans.
Convenience stores in Michigan remain open as essential businesses under an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But a key Southeast Michigan business group and a handful of elected officials think a significant business line for those stores needs to be halted for now.

The Farmington Hills-based Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of its members, and state Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, have called for those stores to suspend their in-store sales of lottery tickets as they’re concerned that people going in just for that purpose are not observing social-distancing practices that can slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Several store owners throughout the state, mainly in Southeast Michigan, have been requesting to the governor that the Michigan lottery should not be deemed essential,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Chamber. “Mainly because they’ve been witnessing in their stores a large amount of people coming in unprotected just to play the lottery.”

The state Lottery Bureau this week allowed store owners to shut down their machines if they so choose. Doing so previously, Manna said, would usually result in the lottery terminal companies pulling the machines from stores.

Manna added that customers now have the ability to play the lottery online, and noted that a store owner in Detroit died from the virus earlier this week.

The chamber estimates that between 75 percent and 90 percent of convenience stores in Southeast Michigan are owned by Chaldean Americans.

Manoogian, in a letter this week to Michigan Lottery Commissioner Brian O. Neill, wrote that she’s been hearing from store owners in her Oakland County state House district about concerns of overcrowding in stores due to people playing lottery.

“It is imperative that we all do our part to limit that overcrowding in this time of necessary social distancing,” Manoogian wrote. “While I fully understand the importance of the Michigan Lottery’s income to the State, I believe that the risks of further community spread far outweigh the benefits at this time.”

In 2019, revenue from the Michigan lottery resulted in over $1 billion going toward the state’s School Aid Fund.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has also expressed concern about crowding of stores by lottery patrons.

“And probably the one thing that bothers me are the lines with the lotto tickets, and we’ve got to find a way for people not to be so clustered together,” Duggan said during a Wednesday press conference. “It is enormously disrespectful to the men and women in the hospitals for people to be clustering. Because they’re fighting to protect you, and we just really ask that you protect your neighbors.”

While Whitmer has been forceful about moving to close schools, bars, restaurants and other establishments in an effort to mitigate the spread, her spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the governor would heed the calls to shut down lottery terminals.

In an email to Crain’s press secretary Tiffany Brown said the administration is reviewing the matter, but declined to comment further.

Manna said he believes the potential hit to schools is the reason why the state has not moved to shut down in-store lottery purchases.

Detroit specifically, but also surrounding suburban areas, have emerged as a hot spot as COVID-19 has spread in the U.S. As of Thursday no fewer than 10,791 people had tested positive for the virus in the state, which has now led to at least 417 deaths since early-March.

While acknowledging that convenience stores play an essential role, particularly for many Detroit residents who have limited access to both transportation and grocery stores, Manna said shutting down lottery sales could help curtail some of the spread.

Manna also added that the lottery serves only as a “loss leader” for store owners. They get a 6 percent commission on tickets sold, meaning a halting of sales would not be of significant financial impact to the business owners.

“I think most store owners at this point are more concerned about their safety and the safety of their customers,” Manna said. “And really want to focus on providing items that are most essential for households right now.”