From September of 2009 to April 30 of this year, Arkansans spent over $1.2 billion on lottery tickets. That is an almost unimaginable amount of money.
In 31 months, Arkansans spent over a billion dollars. That averages out to nearly $40 million every single month, or about $15 per second!
Think about that. On average, in one second the Arkansas Lottery takes in more money than many of its customers do in an entire hour. We have stated over and over again that we believe the lottery is played by those who can least afford to spend money on lottery tickets, and that the lottery itself preys on the poor. Well, let’s look at the numbers one more time.
We sent an FOI request to the Arkansas Lottery Commission last month asking for a breakdown of lottery ticket sales by county. Not surprisingly, Pulaski County topped the list, with a quarter of a billion dollars worth of tickets sold since the lottery first opened shop. But look at the other counties who made the top ten:
- Pulaski County: $251 million ($655 per capita)
- Jefferson County: $55 million ($710 per capita)
- Washington County: $51 million ($251 per capita)
- Faulkner County: $45.8 million ($404 per capita)
- White County: $41 million ($532 per capita)
- Lonoke County: $40.8 million ($597 per capita)
- Garland County: $37 million ($385 per capita)
- Sebastian County: $33 million ($262 per capita)
- Benton County: $31 million ($140 per capita)
- Pope County $30.9 million ($500 per capita)
When we average $1.2 billion (technically $1,240,469,738.50) over Arkansas’ 75 counties, we see that the average county has spent about $16.5 million on lottery tickets. Statewide, per capita lottery ticket sales are $422.
Now it’s understandable that Pulaski County would top the list in gross lottery ticket sales; after all, one out of ten Arkansans lives in Pulaski County, and many more live in surrounding counties, but work in Little Rock. Its size alone means it’s going to sell a lot of lottery tickets. But what about Jefferson County?
One out of five people in Jefferson County live below the poverty level, but it still takes second place for gross lottery ticket sales, and it beats Pulaski County on per capita sales even though it is only one-fifth the size.
By contrast, Washington and Benton counties are both very affluent, but they are at the bottom of the list in per capita sales, with the average person spending less than half what the average person in Jefferson County spends.
If we look at Nevada County, who is not one of the top ten in gross lottery ticket sales, we find that it has spent $900 per capita on lottery tickets, with 9,000 citizens purchasing $8.1 million worth of tickets. Again, one out of five Nevada County residents lives below the poverty level, and yet their lottery expenditures are through the roof.
Either way you slice the lottery ticket numbers—gross sales or sales per capita—Arkansas’ poorest communities are topping the lists. $55 million has left Jefferson County, and it isn’t coming back. You can’t tell me that between lottery prizes and college scholarship awards, Jefferson County has recouped that $55 million; only 915 students from Jefferson County and 86 from Nevada County were awarded a lottery scholarship in the 2010-2011 school year. Statistically, we can assume that almost half those students probably did not renew their scholarships last fall.
Here’s the bottom line: Lottery proponents like to tout job creation, college scholarships, and prizes as ways the lottery benefits the local community. The fact is, Arkansas’ economy loses $15 every second to the lottery. There’s no way the lottery has been a $1.2 billion asset to Arkansas these past 31 months. There’s no way that much money and then some went back into the economy; at best the money was taken out of Nevada County’s economy, and put into Pulaski County’s (after all, that’s where the lottery is based, and where most of its top-dollar employees are); and the truth is, most of that money left the state altogether, paying companies under contract with the Lottery Commission to supply tickets.
Before the lottery came to Arkansas, people said we were losing money every day to lotteries in Oklahoma and Tennessee, because Arkansans crossed state lines to buy lottery tickets. But look at the numbers, and try to tell me we’re better off now.
The truth is Arkansas is losing much more money with a lottery than it ever lost without one.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.