West Point, Ga. (AP) – Loretta Williams lives in Alabama but drove to Georgia to buy a lottery ticket for a chance to win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot.
She was one of a flood of Alabama ticket buyers across the state Thursday. People across the country are clamoring for a chance to win the third largest lottery prize in US history. But in some of the five states without a lottery, jealous spectators are crossing state lines or sending ticket money to friends and family hoping to get in on the action.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to drive to get a lottery ticket,” Williams, 67, said.
Five states — Utah, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama — do not have a lottery. A mix of reasons kept them away, including objections from conservatives, the impact on low-income families, or a desire not to compete with existing gaming operations.
“I’m sure the people of Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia appreciate our contributions to their roads, bridges, education system and many other things,” said Chris England, a Democratic legislator from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. .
Every week, England hears members ask when Alabama will approve the lottery: “Especially when people see it on TV and it’s $1.5 billion dollars.”
In 1999, Alabama rejected a lottery referendum with a mix of churches and outside gambling interests. Lottery proposals stalled in its legislature, an issue now intertwined with the debate over electronic gambling.
In Georgia, a billboard along Interstate 85 stops motorists at a gas station billing itself as the “#1 Lottery Store” about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the Alabama-Georgia line. Alabama car tags at times outnumbered Georgia’s in the parking lot, and a line for ticket purchases stretched into the store.
Similarly, anyone seeking a lottery ticket in Utah must travel to Idaho or Wyoming, the two states closest to the Salt Lake City metro area, where most of the population resides. Lotteries have long been banned in Utah due to strong opposition to gambling by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church. The faith has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, and the majority of lawmakers and more than half of the state’s residents belong to the religion.
In Malad, Idaho, 13 miles (21 kilometers) from the Utah line, KJ’s Quick Stop is taking advantage of Utah’s lack of Powerball by advertising directly to Utah residents for tickets. “Just because Utah doesn’t participate in the lottery doesn’t mean you can’t!” Read their website recently.
KJ’s sold hundreds of Powerball tickets to Utah residents on Thursday alone, Kwik Stop cashier Cassie Rupp said.
In Alaska, when oil prices plummeted in recent years, legislative proposals to generate revenue through lottery games, including Powerball, failed. A 2015 report suggested annual revenue from the statewide lottery would be about $8 million, but warned that such a lottery could negatively impact charitable gaming activities such as raffles.
Anchorage podcast host Keith Gibbons was in New York earlier this week but forgot to buy a Powerball ticket despite not knowing the size of the jackpot. His response when told it could be $1.5 billion: “I want a ticket.”
Although Alaska is very diverse — Anchorage School District students speak more than 100 languages in their homes in addition to English — he believes Powerball has something to offer everyone.
“Everybody’s a little bit here, so when you bring something like that, it doesn’t just speak to our culture, it speaks to all cultures because everybody wants money, everybody wants to win, everybody wants to be a part of the scene,” Gibbons said.
Not everyone agrees.
Bob Endsley was not a Powerball fan. He said Alaskans should not be able to buy tickets. “It’s a waste of money,” Endsley said, also finding fault with taxes owed on winnings and growing jackpots.
Taking a break from snow falling on his sidewalk, an Anchorage man said he once won $10,000 in the Canadian lottery. But it was so long ago, he said, that he doesn’t remember what he did with the wind other than “pay taxes.”
Hawaii joins Utah as two states to ban all forms of gambling. Measures such as establishing a Hawaii state lottery or allowing casinos are periodically introduced in the legislature but routinely fail in committee.
Opponents say legalized gambling would disproportionately harm Hawaii’s low-income communities and encourage gambling addictions. Some argue that the lack of casinos allows Hawaii to maintain its status as a family-friendly destination. Gambling is very popular among Hawaii residents, but Las Vegas is one of their most popular vacation destinations.
John Jones of Montgomery, Alabama, wearing a University of Alabama cap, buys a Powerball ticket Thursday in Georgia. He voted for Alabama’s lottery in 1999 and says he hopes lawmakers there will try again. A retired painter, Jones said he wouldn’t normally buy a lottery ticket, but decided to take a chance.
He said many Alabamians seem to be doing the same thing at the Georgia store. “I’ve even met some friends here,” Jones, 67, said.
Thiessen reports from Anchorage, Alaska. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, and Brady McCombs and Sam Metz in Salt Lake City, Utah contributed to this report.