OTTUMWA — Despite a struggling economy — or perhaps because of it — Iowa lottery tickets sales have surged over the past decade in southeast Iowa.
Since the lottery began 1985, its players have won more than $3.2 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $1.5 billion for state programs that benefit all Iowans, according the Iowa Lottery’s 2013 annual report.
Today, the lottery says, proceeds have three main purposes: provide support for veterans, help a variety of projects through the state General Fund and back the Vision Iowa program, implemented to help create tourism destinations and community attractions as well as build and repair schools.
Yet the Iowa Lottery’s success also has a well-kept secret in southern Iowa. Most of the poorest of counties are among the biggest spenders per capita.
In 2013, lottery sales in Wapello County soared to $6.6 million in sales, which ranked the county as No. 11 in sales among the 99 counties in Iowa. Ten years prior, in 2003, county residents spent $4.1 million.
Spending per capita in Wapello County this past year was $188 per person. That amount, realistically, is much higher since a person must be 18 years old to play the lottery. Twenty-three percent of the county’s population is under the age of 18.
In Polk County, the largest retail sales county in Iowa at $53.3 million, per capita spending was $118.
Wapello County is not alone in its addiction. Their neighbors are fixated on winning, too.
The fastest-growing lottery sales are in two counties bordering Missouri — Van Buren and Davis counties. During the past decade, sales have grown by 237 percent in Van Buren and 129 percent in Davis.
Van Buren grew sales from $200,000 in 2003 to more than $675,000 in 2013 while in Davis Counties sales have soared from $200,000 10 years prior to almost a half million dollars in 2013.
Why the sudden surge? Could it be because people buying the tickets know someone who has won? Or is it the willingness to just take a chance … and, perhaps ... become a millionaire overnight?