(NEXSTAR) – For most of the country, buying a lottery ticket is as simple as driving to the nearest convenience store or gas station. But for some, getting their hands on a Mega Millions or Powerball ticket requires a trip to another state entirely.
Forty-five states (as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) currently allow the sale of lottery tickets or scratch-offs under the laws in each jurisdiction. But five — Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah — have passed on the opportunity or vetoed proposals to participate in statewide or multi-state lottery programs.
That doesn’t stop people from playing, of course. Residents in states with no lottery programs have found ways to get their hands on lottery tickets, largely by crossing over into a state that allows the sale. Just this week, for instance, plenty of Nevada residents made a pilgrimage to an Arizona truck stop about 60 miles outside of Las Vegas, for a chance to try their luck with the Mega Millions, Nexstar’s KLAS reported.
Some lottery dealers in Florida, too, are reportedly seeing more folks from Alabama as the jackpot grows.
“People traveling now, with the Mega Millions as high as it is. People are trying to pay off that Christmas debt or trying not to be in debt coming in 2023,” one store operator told Nexstar’s WDHN.
Why, then, do states like Utah or Nevada choose not to operate or participate in statewide or multistate lotteries? Reasons vary, but it all comes down to politics.
Utah’s State Constitution has long prohibited “games of chance,” and most lawmakers appear intent on keeping it that way.
In recent years, the state government has even taken measures to crack down on fringe gambling — or operations that attempt to skirt the state’s rules by offering entries into sweepstakes-style games or the use of electronic slot-like machines “in exchange for anything of value or incident to the purchase of another good or service,” as defined by Utah code. Three years ago, Utah lawmakers even introduced a bill to close loopholes that led to confusion over the legality of such games, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported in March 2020.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, also frowns upon any form of gambling and encourages its members to oppose “legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.”
The majority of the state’s population, meanwhile, is made up of residents who identify as members of the church of Latter-day Saints, according to a recent report by the Salt Lake City Tribune. LDS members also generally make up majorities of the state’s legislative bodies as well, per the outlet.
Alabama came close in 1999 to approving a lottery after then-Gov. Donald Siegelman (D) touted the money it would generate for the state’s schools, the Associated Press reported at the time. But religious groups opposed the idea, and a recent scandal (regarding traffic tickets) made voters think twice, according to the outlet.
Current Gov. Kay Ivey (R) had previously said she was disappointed that lawmakers didn’t pass a gambling bill in 2022, which would have given residents the right to vote on the matter, Nexstar’s WIAT reported. But political analysts say Ivey and lawmakers may want to reintroduce the issue during the next legislative session, especially since Ivey is positioning herself as “the education governor.”
Proponents, too, argue that Alabama is losing potential revenue to lottery-friendly states just over the border.
“I think there’s a recognition that there’s a need that Alabama take control of this industry,” Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), who introduced a comprehensive gaming bill last year, told WIAT in June, shortly after the bill failed to pass.
“… Alabama needs to benefit from the gaming that’s already going on,” he added.
Alaska has kept statewide and multistate lotteries at bay, at least partially over concerns that allowing such lottery games would take away interest or revenue from certain types of charitable lotteries, which are legal in the state.
For decades, however, Alaska has been very careful in authorizing which types of charitable gaming is actually allowed, due to a clause in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that would require the state to allow tribal casinos to operate the same games, according to local outlet KTUU. The state’s tribal casinos, for that reason, largely offer bingo or pull-tab games.
Charitable gaming, meanwhile, is authorized within the state. Non-profits or municipalities can apply to host “games of chance” only if the revenue supports an approved charitable endeavor. These games include “bingo, raffles and lotteries, pull-tab games, ice classics, race classics, rain classics, goose classics, mercury classics, deep freeze classics, canned salmon classics, salmon classics, king salmon classics, dog mushers’ contests, snow classics, snow machine classics, fish derbies, animal classics, crane classics, cabbage classics, Calcutta pools, big bull moose derbies, and contests of skill,” according to state laws.
Gambling in any form is against the law in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers haven’t tried to loosen restrictions. Proposals to create bingo halls or state-run lotteries are routinely introduced — largely with the goal of raising money for affordable housing in the state’s native Hawaiian communities — but none have managed to pass.
Opponents sometimes cite crime as one of their reasons against allowing any form of gaming, according to Nexstar’s KHON. Others say gambling would disproportionately hurt poorer communities and encourage addiction, the Associated Press reported.
Hawaii’s residents, meanwhile, may be split on the issue of gaming, in general. A survey conducted by the University of Hawaii in 2021 determined that only a slim majority of poll respondents (52%) opposed casino gambling as a way to entice tourists.
Las Vegas, meanwhile, remains one of the top travel destinations for Hawaiians heading out-of-state, according to KLAS. Sin City is also sometimes referred to as Hawaii’s “ninth island,” thanks to snowballing tourism interest created by a Vegas casino owner in the 1970s.
Despite being home to one of the biggest gambling meccas on the planet, Nevada’s State Constitution has never allowed the sale of statewide or multi-state lottery tickets.
“From the start, Nevada was against lotteries,” David Schwartz, the director of the University of Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research, told Nexstar’s KLAS in 2016.
As Schwartz explained, lotteries were viewed as crooked “early on,” whereas other forms of gambling — like those often played on casino floors — were tolerated.
These days, he said, the gaming industry views the lottery as competition for revenue. But some locals claim there’s no need to worry.
“It wouldn’t cut back on the money I spent in casinos. It wouldn’t put a damper on that at all,” one resident told KLAS last week, after driving from Vegas to Arizona to buy lottery tickets. “I like to play my luck and we like to have a good time whether it’s in the lotto or the casinos.”