Lottery take equals $80 a person

  • By Scott North and Katherine Schiffner / Herald Writers
  • Saturday, October 16, 2004 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Steve Williams buys a pair of $1 Washington Lottery tickets twice a week. He lets the computer at Twin City Market and Deli in Stanwood pick the numbers for him.

“I’m hoping for a big win so I can retire,” said Williams, 44.

Hitting his numbers, not paying for public schools, is the primary reason Williams plays.

“I like that some of the money is earmarked for education,” said Williams, of Camano Island. “(But) I’d just like to win.”

Providing cash prizes to players devours the biggest share of Washington’s lottery revenue. The lottery estimates that 64.7 percent of the money it raises winds up as prize money. In fiscal year 2003, that worked out to $298 million statewide.

Players in Snohomish County pocketed an estimated $28.2 million in prizes last year, state records show.

Ticket sellers also collected 6 percent in sales commissions. For Safeway, with four of Snohomish County’s top-selling lottery locations, that worked out to about $315,000 last year.

The commission “doesn’t cover the cost of selling lottery tickets. We sell them because customers want them,” Safeway spokeswoman Cherie Myers said.

The lottery provided The Herald with sales information for all of the approximately 3,500 supermarkets, convenience stores and other businesses in the state where lottery products are sold.

The Herald used computers and mapping software to examine the data in a variety of ways.

Critics often argue that lotteries target the poor.

It’s hard to reach that conclusion in Snohomish County, where most lottery tickets are sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. Those businesses are usually on major roads, often away from residential neighborhoods, and bring in customers from broad areas.

The lottery doesn’t specifically track who buys its products. Officials say general marketing research shows lottery players mirror the state’s population.

The Herald’s analysis found differences in rates of play around the state.

In six of the state’s 39 counties, the amount of money being spent on the lottery each year works out to more than $100 for every man, woman and child living in those counties. The statewide average is about $80 a person.

That means some people are playing the lottery at much higher rates, said state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

“That bothers me. That bothers me a lot,” he said. “This is their choice. But it takes away opportunity for them to spend the money on other things,” including tuition and training that could lead to a better job, or other forms of investment.”

The Herald’s analysis found no clear demographic reason to explain the differences in rates of play around the state – not family income, nor employment rates, nor the percentage of population old enough to legally purchase tickets.

Places with the highest rates of play also had the highest numbers of lottery-selling locations per person.

State officials believe there is room for the lottery to grow, lottery public relations manager Jacque Coe said.

At Twin City Market and Deli in Stanwood, one of Snohomish County’s top lottery-selling locations, store clerks say one customer purchases $100 worth of lottery tickets every week.

Dave Brosius, 57, of Stanwood, is one of the lottery regulars. He plays Lotto, Quinto and Lucky for Life every week, and once won $500.

“I’m not a big gambler, but if you happen to get lucky, it’s worth the money,” he said.

Brosius wasn’t surprised that Snohomish County residents spend $52 million a year on lottery tickets. But the number seemed high to Tom Verd, who plays Keno.

“That’s a lot. I had no idea,” said Verd, 69, of Camano Island. “I think the game is a good idea. Maybe it’s keeping our taxes from creeping up.”

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