Idaho lottery grows amid recession

Schools, state buildings will benefit from proceeds

BOISE - Though the economic times are grim, there’s one way Idaho’s still making money: by chance.

Idaho’s state lottery announced Tuesday that its annual revenue set a record for the seventh time in eight years, coming in 2 percent over last year. That bucks a national trend that has many states seeing lower lottery proceeds, including Washington, where lottery proceeds were down 6 percent.

“When people have less disposable income, they go ahead and they spend it on things that they can definitely count on,” said Jacque Coe, communications director for the Washington State Lottery. “People are careful in a down economy.”

In Idaho, however, officials say people are still buying lottery tickets. “This is a low-cost form of entertainment for the people who play – I mean, it’s only a dollar,” said Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson. “We know that people are cutting back on their expenditures for a lot of things.”

Idaho’s biggest-ever lottery winner, Brad Duke, who won $220.3 million in a Powerball drawing in 2005, said, “There’s always the chance, there’s always the hope. I suppose for some people, that goes a long ways – to invest a couple of bucks for some hope might give ’em a little relief.”

Duke, 37, said he still plays the lottery from time to time. Since his big win, he’s gone from manager of a local Gold’s Gym to owner of a consulting firm that helps people run their gyms. He’s also indulged his hobby of downhill mountain biking and set up a family foundation that’s given more than $100,000 to charities.

Idaho’s state lottery celebrated its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, with free hot dogs and birthday cake at a celebration in downtown Boise.

Anderson said the Idaho lottery sold its first ticket in 1989 to billionaire J.R. Simplot; that ticket didn’t win.

The Washington lottery’s proceeds go to education, stadium construction, economic development and treatment for problem gambling. When it was established in 1982 during a big budget crunch, the money went to the state’s general fund.

Idaho’s lottery proceeds are split evenly between public schools and the state’s permanent building fund, which maintains state buildings.

Washington hasn’t released its final figures yet for the fiscal year that just ended, but the previous year’s proceeds of $130.3 million set a record. Idaho’s proceeds of $35 million in the just-concluded fiscal year came on sales of $139.6 million.

Nationwide, state lottery proceeds grew steadily right through the last big recession in the early 2000s, but that’s not happening this time around for most states.

“I think that there was some sense that gambling was recession-proof, and I think that there’s been evidence in various states this year that show that not to be the case,” said Ian Pulsipher, policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “There’s considerable evidence that gambling revenues are down in most of the states.”

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