El Paso County is Colorado’s lotto land

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Love it or hate it, the lottery is here to stay, and it apparently has biblical precedence. In Chapter 26, in the Book of Numbers (where else?), Moses used a lottery to award land west of the river Jordan.

In Colorado, the history is somewhat less celestial, unless you happen to be a million-dollar winner.

This year the Colorado Lottery is 20 years old, and it is producing more winners and losers than ever. And, just as it was in the 1700s, state proceeds from lotteries are used for the public good. Some claim Benjamin Franklin used lotteries to finance the building of cannons for the revolutionary war.

In Colorado, lottery proceeds pay for parks, a conservation trust fund, and school health and safety. In addition, in Colorado, El Paso County is the lotto king.

El Paso County sold $51,338,434 worth of lotto tickets through 324 retailers in the period from April 2001 through March 31, 2002. State parks received $1.2 million of that amount, and Great Outdoors Colorado picked up more than $16 million.

In a spiffy color booklet published by the Colorado Lottery to commemorate its birthday, numbers for each of Colorado’s counties are broken down with categories for funds allocated to state projects within each county.

Colorado’s lottery started on Jan. 24, 1983. “The goal was to generate $60 million in sales that first year,” said Lottery Director Mark Zamarripa. “However, through hard work, the lottery surpassed that amount and sold more than 137 million tickets.”

Fast-forward 20 years. “The lottery continues to work hard to generate revenues for proceeds recipients, but unlike 1983, the Colorado Lottery now offers players a variety of games including Powerball, Lotto, Cash 5, and the product that started it all – scratch tickets.”

By 1991, the Colorado Lottery had sold its one-billionth ticket, and by 1998, the state’s cut of the proceeds totaled $1 billion dollars. In 1992, Colorado’s largest lottery jackpot – $27 million – was paid to Boulder’s Kim Walker. She also became the state’s 100th lottery millionaire. In 2001, the state lottery board announced its membership in the multi-state game Powerball.

While the lottery has plenty of supporters, detractors claim many players are poor and cannot afford to lose the money they spend chasing a rainbow.

“As a state agency, the lottery realizes its obligations to players extend beyond creating new games and generating revenue for the state,” the lottery report said. “For most people, lottery tickets are a form of entertainment, but for some, playing the lottery can be a problem.”

Because of those concerns for compulsive gamblers, lottery officials recently launched a “play responsibly” campaign. It includes a point-of-sale material at retailer locations, brochures and ticket messages urging players to gamble responsibility. Handily, the brochure also provides information on how to seek help for one’s gambling-related foibles. Last year the lottery sponsored the Problem Gambling Coalition conference.

Lottery demographics provided by lottery officials indicate that by race or ethnicity, Hispanics and Latinos gamble more based on their population.

Hispanic and Latinos comprise about 15 percent of the state’s population, but make up 22 percent of lottery purchases. Otherwise, men and women gamble equally; 73 percent of the state’s lotto players have incomes above $35,000 annually, and 52 percent either have some college or have graduated from college.

Colorado’s lottery games include the original scratch, with as many as 12 different games going on at once. Scratch games can be purchased for $1, $2, $3, $5, and $10.

Lotto is played by selecting six numbers from a field of 42. Matches of 2, 3, 4, 5, or six win a prize. Lotto jackpots start at $1 million.

Colorado Powerball is the biggie that put the state on the national gambling map. Powerball jackpots regularly exceed $100 million. Players choose five numbers out of 49, and a single number, the powerball, out of 42. The jackpot is awarded for a match of all six numbers. There is another variation on the game, called the PowerPlay, which costs an extra dollar.

Cash 5 plays like lotto, but offers better odds of winning. Players pick five numbers from a field of 32. If a player matches 2,3,4, or five numbers, they win a prize. Drawings are nightly except Sunday.