Poor areas fuel lotteryby Brad Branan on Apr. 06, 2006, under Local
Buying mirrors nation; Az’s gaming role weighed
Arizona Lottery sales in metro Tucson are highest in areas where residents can least afford to play.
Households in the Tucson area’s lower-income ZIP codes spent an average of $177 for lottery tickets last fiscal year, $35 more on average than households in upper-income ZIP codes, according to a Tucson Citizen analysis of figures from the Arizona Lottery Commission.
In one South Side ZIP code, households spent an average of $372. In one Catalina foothills ZIP code, they spent $9.
The trend fits a national one that raises questions about the state’s role in gambling, and the problems associated with it, and how lotteries shift the burden of paying for state services to lower-income residents.
Just over half of the $53 million in Tucson-area sales last fiscal year were in ZIP codes that had median household incomes below $36,800, the average for Pima County in the 2000 census.
Many people buy lottery tickets when a big prize is available, such as Saturday night’s estimated $195 million multistate Powerball drawing. But lottery sales are typically driven by a relatively small group of habitual players, experts say. That means some Tucson players each year are losing hundreds of dollars or more that might be needed for basic necessities.
“I think what the lottery does is play on people’s ideas of leading a life they’re not living,” said state Rep. Linda Lopez, who represents a South Side area with the highest lottery sales in metro Tucson. “It’s a real big concern for me. … The unfortunate thing is that people don’t think of the lottery as gambling and they may have a problem.”
Lottery spending is highest in lower-incomes areas in central Tucson and on the South Side.
At the end of February, an average of 16 stores were selling lottery tickets in lower-income ZIP codes, three times the average for upper-income ZIP codes.
Krystal De La Luz works at a convenience store on Irvington Road in the 85714 ZIP code, where lottery sales in the Tucson area are highest, $372 per household. She has to work nearly two hours to pay for the $10 in tickets she buys every day.
“I’m addicted,” said De La Luz, 21, who favors the instant winner games. “It’s like a cigarette with nicotine.”
At current interest rates, she could turn her daily lottery habit into $20,000 in savings in five years.
Art Macias, executive director of the Arizona Lottery, said looking at lottery sales by ZIP code doesn’t provide a complete picture of who buys tickets. The Citizen’s analysis fails to account for customers who buy tickets in areas where they don’t live, he said.
A 2004 survey conducted for the Arizona Lottery found that the average annual household income for a player is $520 above the statewide average calculated for the study. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus $1,006.
Dreams drive sales
Before Arizona voters approved the lottery by a narrow margin in 1980, then-Tucson Mayor Lew Murphy and then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt warned that it would prey upon the poor.
In a 1999 report to a congressional commission, Duke University researchers found that “the lower-income categories have the highest per capita spending” on lotteries nationwide.
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission endorsed that finding and said states face a conflict of interest by running lotteries: “How can a state government ensure that its pursuit of revenues does not conflict with its responsibility to protect the public?”
Although some conservative groups and lawmakers have criticized the Arizona Lottery, one of the primary concerns for lawmakers has been to increase its revenues.
In recent years, the lottery added instant-winner games and retailer incentives.
State Rep. David Bradley, a Tucson Democrat, said lottery revenues have become an “addiction” for some lawmakers.
The Arizona Lottery sold $398 million in tickets last fiscal year, a 46 percent increase over fiscal 2001. Of that, 55 percent went to player prizes, 7 percent to retailers and the rest to the state.
Tucson’s poor think they can profit from the lottery, too, advocates say.
“They’re hoping that maybe they can win a little bit of money and pull themselves out of the grinding poverty,” said Peggy Hutchison, executive director of the Primavera Foundation, which provides services to low-income Tucsonans.
“We want to get out of this poor area,” said Darlene Macias, a cashier at an Irvington Road convenience store where she spends about $60 a week on the lottery. “I want to stop working here. I want to help my family.”
About 2 percent of Arizona adults are problem or compulsive gamblers, and few consider the lottery their favorite form of gambling, a report commissioned by the Arizona Lottery found in 2003.
But such gamblers often play lottery tickets in addition to other games, the report said. The lottery was the type of gambling they were most likely to play on a monthly basis.
Michael Bock, a Tucson account executive, said he and his wife enjoy spending about $5 a week on the Lottery. He doesn’t expect anything more than entertainment.
“You’re more likely to get hit by lightning three times than win big,” he said.
Lottery players make up a small fraction of problem gamblers, said Arizona Lottery official Macias.
The Lottery promotes the state’s help line for problem gamblers on its Web site and at retailers.
“We’ve always had the stance that if we’re part of the problem, we’re going to be part of the solution,” he said.
The Lottery plans to include messages about responsible gambling in a new electronic display that retailers will soon use to sell tickets, he said.
Still, none of the Arizona Lottery’s revenues is specifically targeted toward problem gambling, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
TO GET HELP:
The state’s Office for Problem Gambling runs a help line, (800) 639-8783.
Arizona Office for Problem Gambling Web site, http://www.problemgambling.az.gov/treatment.htm
The state lottery’s Web site, http://www.arizonalottery.com/
Duke University report on lottery to National Gambling Impact Study Commission, http://www-pps.aas.duke.edu/people/faculty/clotfelter/lottrep.pdf
Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling Web site, http://www.azccg.org/