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State’s poorest counties top lottery sales list

The chance of striking it rich is alluring to many individuals, especially those whose annual income is far below average.

That fact is backed by a recently released report from NC Policy Watch whose investigative research found that citizens of the state’s most impoverished counties tend to be the biggest consumers of lottery tickets.

According to the report, released Dec. 17, North Carolina’s adults are spending an average of $200 a year on scratch-off tickets and number games. For 2009-10 it was revealed that the state had an adult population of 7,102,917 who spent $1.42 billion playing the North Carolina Lottery.

The state’s poorest counties had the highest per capita lottery sales. Out of the 20 counties with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult.

Three of those 18 counties were in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Based on per capita sales ($386.64), Bertie County adults spent the most in the region. The county has 14,925 adults that wagered $5.8 million on the lottery during 2009-10. Bertie lists 23.3 percent of its citizens living below poverty.

Boasting the largest number of adults (18,116) in the R-C area, Hertford County residents shelled out $5.7 million on the lottery over the period of the NC Policy Watch investigation, representing per capita sales of $312.96. Hertford County has 22.7 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line.

Northampton County has the highest percentage (26.6) of its residents living below poverty. Its adult population of 15,899 spent $4.5 million on the lottery, or $282.25 per capita.

Gates County was below the state average in per capita lottery sales. The county’s 8,856 adults combined to spend less than one million dollars ($910,000) in an effort to hit the jackpot ($103.19 in sales per capita). Gates has 15.7 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line.

The report showed the highest per capita sales were $536.11 in Nash County. The lowest were in Madison County on the N.C.-Tennessee border, with $25.41 in sales for every adult.

Other impoverished counties in the eastern part of the state also had some of the highest per-adult lottery sales. Washington County (21.8% poverty in 2008) sold $435.84 worth of tickets per adult, while Tyrrell (23.3% poverty in 2008) had $349.79 in sales. Edgecombe (22.9% in 2008) had $468.99 in sales per adult; Martin (17.7 percent poverty) had per capita sales of $407.58; and Halifax (23.7 percent poverty rate) listed per capita sales of $471.95.

Per capita sales were lowest in the western part of the state.

To create the analysis, NC Policy Watch requested and received data of county sales for the 2009-10 fiscal year, and then compared those figures with the 2009 adult populations of each county as estimated by the U.S. Census. Policy Watch then compared those figures with the U.S. Census’ 2008 poverty rates for each county, the most up-to-date numbers available.