A decision by an Idaho legislative committee that may end the sale of Powerball tickets in that state later this year might wind up being a boon to Washington stores along the border every time the major multistate lottery has a big jackpot.
But don’t bet on it on a weekly basis. Idaho isn’t pulling out of MegaMillions, the other big lottery that operates in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, so state residents who want to invest a few dollars in an infinitesimally small chance of winning millions still will have that option.
“The only effect it’ll have is when the dollar amount gets really high,” said Robert Owen of Owen’s Grocery and Deli in Newport, Washington, just blocks from the Idaho border. “That’s when it gets to be crazy.”
While stores in neighboring Washington might sometimes benefit from Idaho dropping Powerball, the Idaho Lottery Commission contends schools in their states would definitely be losers. State schools receive about $14 million each year from Powerball ticket sales.
Although Idaho has been a participant in Powerball for 32 years and is a member of the Multi-State Lottery Association that runs the game, the Legislature needed to approve the association’s plan to expand to Australia and the United Kingdom. Current law only allows Idaho to participate in lotteries in the United States and Canada.
The House State Affairs Committee killed the bill that would have allowed Idaho to participate in the expanded lottery on a bipartisan 10-4 vote that had a range of objections, the Associated Press reported.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, objected to participating in a lottery that includes Australia, which has strict gun control laws, and said the game’s revenues might go to enforce those laws.
Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, was concerned about the estimated $3 million the state spends on advertising to encourage Idaho residents to play the game.
Rep. Chris Matthias, D-Boise, said he was worried about turning over the state’s sovereignty to the association, which might someday expand into countries with which the United States is “not particularly friendly.” He tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to limit the countries that could participate.
After the committee vote, Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson said the state will stop participating in Powerball on Aug. 23. But the commission later released a statement that seemed to hold the door open, saying “work continues with the Legislature to determine an alternative path forward to ensure no disruption of service to Idaho’s single most popular lottery game.”
A Boise man won a $220 million Powerball jackpot in 2005, and others have won lesser amounts of $1 million or more. In 2012, an unclaimed prize of $1 million went to state coffers.
If Powerball does leave the state, North Idaho players will be able to drive into Washington to get their tickets.
Washington sells Powerball tickets, but the state is not part of the Multi-State Lottery Association that operates that game, said Dan Miller, a spokesman for the Washington Lottery Commission. Unlike Idaho, which was one of the first states to sell Powerball, Washington didn’t start selling that lottery ticket until February 2010. It doesn’t need a change in law to accommodate expansion to Australia or the United Kingdom because it doesn’t participate in that decision.
“We’re not really counting on a big spike because of the Idaho decision,” Miller said.
There may be some players who really love Powerball who will come across the border to buy those tickets, he said. But many lottery players will switch to MegaMillions, the other multistate lottery with large jackpots, or a state lottery game.
“We don’t anticipate people driving for hours” to buy Powerball tickets, he said.
Powerball, like MegaMillions, gets really popular when jackpots climb into the nine-figure range, retailers said.
Patrick Ellsworth, the manager at the Nomnom Convenience Store in Liberty Lake, said when the jackpots get big, the store can sell as much as $5,000 worth of tickets in a day.
The store is one of the first places across the Idaho border to buy tickets for people traveling on Interstate 90. Ellsworth said he has regular customers from Idaho but has only heard a few things about the possibility that the state will be dropping Powerball.
One of the customers thought that was a good idea because it would mean when someone wins they could be in another country and the money would go there, Ellsworth recalled.
Owen, whose family has owned the Newport grocery and deli for four generations, said most weeks his store won’t see a dramatic impact in sales if Idaho drops Powerball and the jackpots aren’t as big as MegaMillions.
“There’s so many lottery opportunities. They’ll look around and play the biggest one,” Owen said.
Although stores get a 5% commission for selling the tickets, Owen said it doesn’t really cover the time it takes after taxes.
“It’s more of a convenience for your customers,” he said.
The state has changed the bonus for selling a winning ticket and Owen said he’s not even sure what it is. “I hope some day to find out,” he added.
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