WEST POINT, Ga. (AP) — Loretta Williams lives in Alabama, but she drove to Georgia to buy a lottery ticket for a chance to win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot.
He was one of many ticket buyers in Alabama who flooded state lines Thursday. The third largest lottery prize in US history has people across the country clamoring for a chance to win. But in some of the five states without a lottery, jealous bystanders 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 win a lottery ticket,” Williams, 67, said.
Five states — Utah, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Alabama — do not have a lottery. A combination of reasons kept them away, including objections from conservatives, concerns about the impact on low-income families, or a desire not to compete with existing gaming businesses.
“I’m sure the people of Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia appreciate all of our contributions to their roads, bridges, education system and many other things that they spend this money on,” said Democratic lawmaker Chris England from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. .
Several times a week, England hears from voters asking when Alabama will approve a lottery: “Especially when people look on TV and see it’s $1.5 billion.”
In 1999, Alabama voted down a lottery referendum after a mixture of church opposition and out-of-state gambling interests. Since then, lottery proposals have stalled in his legislature, the issue now intertwined with the debate over electronic gambling.
In Georgia, a billboard along Interstate 85 invites motorists to stop at a gas station billed as the “#1 LOTTERY STORE” — 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the Alabama-Georgia line. Alabama car tags outnumbered Georgia tags in the parking lot at times, and a line to purchase tickets stretched throughout the store.
Similarly, anyone in Utah who wants a lottery ticket must drive to Idaho or Wyoming, the two closest states to the Salt Lake City metro area, where most of the population resides. Lotteries have long been banned in Utah amid fierce opposition to gambling from leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church. The faith is headquartered in Salt Lake City, and the majority of legislators and more than half of the state’s residents belong to the religion.
In Malad, Idaho, 13 miles (21 km) from the Utah line, KJ’s Kwik Stop is taking advantage of Utah’s absence of Powerball by advertising directly to Utah residents to stop by for tickets. “Just because Utah isn’t in the lottery doesn’t mean you can’t!” their website was read recently.
KJ’s sold hundreds of Powerball tickets to Utah residents on Thursday alone, said Cassie Rupp, Kwik Stop cashier.
In Alaska, when oil prices plummeted in recent years, legislative proposals to monetize gaming, possibly including Powerball, faltered. A 2015 report suggested that annual revenue from a state lottery could be about $8 million, but warned that such a lottery could negatively impact charitable gaming activities such as sweepstakes.
Anchorage podcast host Keith Gibbons was in New York City earlier this week but forgot to buy a Powerball ticket even though he didn’t know the size of the jackpot. His response when told it could be $1.5 billion: “I need a ticket.”
He believes that even though Alaska is extremely diverse — students in the Anchorage School District speak more than 100 languages in addition to English at home — the Powerball giveaway would appeal to everyone.
“There’s a little bit of everybody here, and so when you bring things 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 part of the scene,” Gibbons said.
Not everyone agrees.
Bob Endsley is not a Powerball fan. He says Alaskans shouldn’t have the opportunity to buy tickets. “It’s a waste of money,” Endsley said, also faulting the taxes that must be paid on winnings and growing jackpots.
Taking a break from shoveling snow from his sidewalk, the Anchorage man said he once won $10,000 in a Canadian lottery. But it was so long ago, he said, that he doesn’t remember what he did with the windfall other than “paid taxes.”
Hawaii joins Utah as both states ban all forms of gambling. Measures to establish a Hawaii state lottery or to license casinos are periodically introduced in the legislature but usually fail in committee.
Opponents say legalized gambling would disproportionately harm Hawaii’s low-income communities and encourage gambling addictions. Some argue that the absence of casinos allows Hawaii to maintain its status as a family-friendly destination. However, gambling is popular among Hawaiians, with Las Vegas being one of their top vacation destinations.
Wearing a University of Alabama hat, John Jones of Montgomery, Alabama, bought a Powerball ticket Thursday in Georgia. He voted for an Alabama lottery in 1999 and said he hopes lawmakers there will try again. A retired painter, Jones said he doesn’t usually buy a lottery ticket, but decided to take a chance.
He said many Alabamians seem to do the same at the Georgia store. “I even met some friends here,” Jones, 67, said.
Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, and Brady McCombs and Sam Metz, both in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.