NC Lottery Sales Strong In Poor Counties
North Carolina adults spend an average of $200 playing the lottery each year, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center. The numbers show lottery sales are particularly strong in the state's poorest counties. Take the total amount of lottery tickets sold in each county, divide by the county's population and a trend emerges. "It looks like some of the most impoverished counties in the state also have some of the highest lottery per capita sales in the state," says Sarah Ovaska of the North Carolina Justice Center. Ovaska's report shows nearly all of the state's 20 poorest counties - those with a fifth of the population living below the poverty line - had lottery sales way above $200 per person. The figures are closer to $400, in fact. Most of those counties are in Eastern North Carolina - Halifax, Lenoir, Washington counties, for example. The analysis suggests there may be some truth to the concern long-held by lottery opponents that such games mainly attract those who can least afford to gamble their money. But Alice Garland, interim director of the North Carolina Education Lottery, says the per capita sales figures may be misleading because many lottery tickets are purchased by travelers and tourists. "Their analysis assumes that the people who purchase the tickets are the people who live in the county," says Garland. "What are the major transportation routes that go through that county? Are there a lot of commuters coming into work? Is it a tourism attraction? A destination county? In our minds there's a lot more that needs to be taken into account." It's true, some of the highest per capita lottery sales numbers are in counties along I-95 and popular routes to the Eastern coast. However, the North Carolina Education Lottery does not track demographic data that would discredit the correlation between big lottery sales in poor counties. Garland says advertising is done statewide. "Obviously our goal is to maximize sales so we can raise as much money for education as we can, but we want to get that by getting a lot of people playing a little," says Garland.