Texas cashes in as record-breaking lottery ticket sales top $5 billion

Texas Lottery

Texans believe in taking chances.

At least in the chance that, for a dollar or two, they might become a big winner if they just buy the right scratch-off or drawing ticket through the Texas Lottery.

“It’s only a buck or three a week,” said Mark Lawnicki, a 61-year-old Fort Worth retiree who spends about $8 a week on Texas Lotto, Powerball and Mega Millions drawings. “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

State officials announced Thursday that the Texas Lottery for the first time topped the $5 billion mark in scratch-off and lottery drawing tickets during the 2016 fiscal year — and put a record $1.39 billion into state coffers.

The uptick in sales can be chalked up to two things: popular scratch-off tickets ($3.72 billion worth) and the $1.5 billion Powerball in January, said Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery.

“We are going to try our best to keep the success growing,” Grief said.

Critics have long said they fear that the game financially hurts some of the most vulnerable Texans and doesn’t do enough to help the state.

“It’s pretty much a scam all the way around!! Take your money to the casinos in Oklahoma, ... wayyyy better odds!!” Johnny Christopher Lopez, a 42-year-old Fort Worth man, told the Star-Telegram.

Supporters disagree and question where more than $1 billion a year can be found to replace revenue lost if the entrenched business were to no longer exist.

New billboards will be popping up around the state, sending a shout out to Texans who play the lottery.

“It’s a thank you to our players for $5 billion in sales this year,” Grief said.

In the beginning...

Texas lawmakers, under Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, decided to ask voters — as they faced a huge tax hike to counter a budget shortfall — whether they wanted a state lottery.

After more than three-fifths of Texans said yes, the first Texas lottery ticket was sold in 1992.

Since the Texas Lottery began, $25 billion has been generated in revenue for the state, including more than $19 billion for Texas public education and more than $66 million to Texas veterans, lottery records show.

“Clearly it’s record breaking,” said Robert Rivera, an Arlington City councilman and lottery commissioner. “It’s exciting for Texas, but really what it means is more dollars into our Texas schools.”

$50 billion in Texas Lottery prizes has been paid out to players.

At the same time, $50 billion in prizes has been paid out to players, lottery records show.

Before 1997, lottery proceeds went into the state’s general revenue fund. Since then, they have gone to the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency, according to the Lottery Commission.

“The lottery is not a panacea,” Richards said in 1992. “It is not the answer to all the fiscal challenges facing this state and I have never said that it will solve all our problems.

“But we should not lose sight of the bottom line in any discussion of the lottery,” she said. “The bottom line is money for Texas.”

Players collected $3.27 billion in prizes during the past year and lottery retailers statewide picked up $273.3 million in bonuses, incentives and commissions, lottery records show.

This is the 13th year in a row that the Texas Lottery put more than $1 billion in revenue into state coffers.

This is the 13th year in a row that the Texas Lottery put more than $1 billion in revenue into state coffers, reports show.

“We’ve really found since lottery games are an inexpensive form of entertainment, ... [we] want to make sure we have the best products out there,” Grief said.

Lopez said the Texas Lottery is one form of entertainment he has had to walk away from.

He said he played often until about a year ago, when he noticed his payouts were becoming “few and far between.”

“So we have basically given up on Texas lottery scratchoffs and are even spending less on the bigger multi-state games as well,” he said. “Have had a lot more luck spending money in the casinos across the border in Oklahoma.”

In it to win

In the past year alone, North Texas has seen big lottery wins.

Among them:

▪ Roy Gibson of Weatherford bought a winning Lotto ticket that netted him $4.6 million, after picking cash value payout on a $6 million jackpot.

▪ And Lance Larkin of Grand Prairie took home nearly $10 million after buying a Lotto ticket and choosing cash value option at a Kroger store in Arlington.

One of these days, Lawnicki hopes he’s holding the ticket matching all the numbers.

“I’ve been playing the [drawings] since they’ve had them in Texas,” he said. “Haven’t won very much, but it’s the thrill of knowing that at least I’m in there to possibly win.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley