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Utahns buy 19% of Idaho's lottery tickets

Published April 6, 2012 2:15 pm

Gambling • Top five ticket sellers in Idaho are along Utah border.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

About $1 of every $5 spent on traditional Idaho Lottery games — such as the Mega Millions drawing that offered a record $656 million jackpot last week — comes from neighboring Utah, which outlaws all forms of gambling.

That's according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of Idaho Lottery Commission sales data for 2011, obtained through an open-records request.

It shows that 19.4 percent of Idaho's revenue from traditional lottery drawings comes from sales sites on the Utah border. And owners of such stores credit the Beehive State for the overwhelming majority of those sales — "99 percent" of them, said Alexis Daniels, manager of the Top Stop Chevron in the border city of Malad.

That appropriately named Top Stop is Idaho's No. 1 lottery outlet. By itself, that gasoline station and convenience store sells 3 percent of all the Gem State's tickets for traditional lotteries.

The No. 2 sales site is across the street at the Kwik Stop in Malad. In fact, the top five Idaho Lottery outlets are all on the Utah border, either in Malad, Franklin or Fish Haven. The No. 10 site for traditional lottery drawings is not far away, in Downey.

Malad (population 2,130) even sold more lottery products in 2011 than any city in Idaho, except the capital of Boise (more than 205,000). Malad sold nearly $5,000 in lottery products per resident that year.

"I'd just like to say thank you," Daniels said, "to all the people from Utah who come up to buy tickets."

So would David Workman, spokesman for the Idaho Lottery Commission. He said Idaho knows that Utahns contribute "significantly to Idaho public schools and the state of Idaho's permanent buildings, which are our beneficiaries."

In 2011, border outlets sold $10.3 million worth of traditional lottery tickets. They sold $6.2 million in other lottery products such as pull-tabs or scratch-off tickets. The combined $16.5 million total is a bit more than the $16 million increase that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposed for higher education this year.

Of note, while the border sites sell 19 percent of Idaho's traditional lottery tickets, they sell only 6 percent of its scratch cards and 3 percent of its pull tabs. For all types of lottery products combined, the border outlets provide 10.5 percent of Idaho's lottery revenue.

In its 22-year history, the Idaho Lottery Commission has given $540.6 million in profits to the state for schools and buildings. If Utahns provided 10.5 percent of that total as they did for all lottery products in 2011, that would be $54.1 million that Utah ended up giving in profit to its neighbors to the north.

Of note, $50 million is about what Utah estimates it will spend this year on the 12,500 additional students entering its public schools.

Daniels, at the Top Stop, said lottery sales are consistent throughout the year, even though they went crazy last week with the record jackpot — as they always do when big prizes are offered.

"There was a three-hour wait in line" last week, she said. "But we have very regular customers. Every five weeks they come up to buy their tickets for the next 10 drawings. We saw a lot of those during this last rush as well as a lot of new faces."

That draw occurs without the Idaho Lottery running any ads in Utah, which Workman said is banned by Utah law.

Although Idaho did not have anyone who shared in the record top prize last week, it did sell two winning tickets worth $250,000 each in the big drawing. Workman said one of them was sold in Malad to two Utah friends: Phyllis Pope and Sylvia King of Salt Lake City.

The Tribune was unable to reach them.

But Carolyn Atkinson — owner of Malad's K-C Oil, which sold that winning ticket and received a bonus worth 10 percent or $25,000 — recalled the buying frenzy.

"We normally close at 9, and on the Thursday night, we were there until about 1 a.m. to make sure everybody got their tickets. … We had them out the door and down the street and the store was full," she said, estimating that 99 percent of the customers were from Utah. Her store is the No. 4 lottery outlet in Idaho.

So what would happen if Utah ever allowed a lottery?

"It would really hurt Malad," Atkinson said. And Idaho, Workman added.

But a Beehive State lottery is not likely — even if the money may be tempting. The Utah Constitution bans all games of chance, so a constitutional amendment would be needed to change it. That would have to be approved by two-thirds majorities of both houses of the Legislature and then by voters.

Legislators told The Tribune last month that gambling is one of the few areas that leaders of Utah's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, take on directly.

An official church statement says it "is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling."

To explain why it takes that stand, the church's website, lds.org, quotes from its book, True to the Faith, saying, "Those who participate in gambling soon discover the deception in the idea that they can give little or nothing and receive something of value in return. … Deceived and addicted, they often gamble with funds they should use for other purposes, such as meeting the basic needs of their families."

Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, successfully pushed a bill this year that moved in the opposite direction of allowing gambling, tightening restrictions against "fringe gambling" conducted by some Internet cafes that allowed "free" games of chance to people who bought food or computer time.

"There was no opposition to my bill," he said. So what are the chances of a state lottery? "My gut tells me it is very slim. … I don't sense that the colleagues I've talked to have any appetite for that."

That's fine with Daniels at Malad's Top Stop.

"I hope it never changes," she said. "It would definitely have a negative impact on our businesses."

ldavidson@sltrib.com