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Blacks Playing Illinois Lottery to Lose

Chicago Defender, News Report, Wendell Hutson Posted: Dec 29, 2008

When it comes to the Illinois Lottery, it is true that you have to play to win. Unfortunately, it seems that Illinois Black residents are doing most of the playing but not a lot of the winning.

A Defender analysis of Illinois Lottery sales for fiscal year 2008 revealed that six out of the top 10 ZIP codes that produced the highest sales have a majority Black population: 60619, 60628, 60617, 60651, 60609 and 60636.

But the analysis shows that when it came to cashing in on winnings, players living in these same six ZIP codes did not fare well.

According to Illinois Lottery records, 60619, which includes the Greater Grand Crossing and Chatham communities, and 60628, which includes the Roseland and Pullman communities, both on the South Side, generated the highest lottery sales in the state from June 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.

Players in the 60619 ZIP code played $26.6 million worth of lottery games for fiscal year 2008, and $21.7 million in lottery sales came from the 60628. Each ZIP code has a Black population over 90 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Further, nearly half of the residents age 16 and up living in these two ZIP codes are unemployed.

Last fiscal year, only $1.9 million in winnings ($600 and over) was awarded to players living in the 60619 ZIP code and $1.4 million for winners living in the 60628.

The Illinois Lottery was founded in 1974 with the goal of raising additional money to fund public schools. But today nearly half of every dollar spent in sales goes to pay winners, who rarely live in a Black community, based on a Defender analysis of lottery winners for fiscal year 2008.

According to Acting Superintendent of the Lottery Jodie Winnett, for every dollar from lottery sales, 33 cents goes toward the Common School Fund, which is a state fund used to help finance public schools. Last fiscal year, $657 million was paid into the fund, up from the previous year when $622 million was transferred, she said. But in 2006, $670 million was paid into the common fund.

The bulk of the monies collected from lottery sales go to pay winners. For every dollar spent on lottery tickets, 57 cents goes to pay for winnings, 7 cents goes to retailers and vendors commission and 3 cents to operating expenses.

The other eight ZIP codes with the highest lottery sales were 60639, $21.7 million; 60617, $19.9 million; 60651, $18.5 million; 60647, $18.2 million; 60634, $17.5 million; 60453, $17.07 million; 60609, $16.5 million; and 60636, $15.03 million.

But winnings for those areas hardly added up to much.

In 60639, $1.7 million was awarded to winners, and in 60617, $1.5 million was awarded. Additionally, 60651 reaped $1.1 million in winnings; 60647, $3.9 million; 60634, $2.8 million; 60453, $1.9 million; 60609, $622, 447; and 60636, $1.2 million.

The Lottery has no control over which tickets go to what vendor, Winnett said.

Some community residents said one reason lottery sales are so high in Black communities is because there are a lot of places to go to buy tickets.

Most of the convenience stores, gas stations and liquor stores in minority communities are owned by whites and foreigners. They target the minority community for these types of businesses because they know we will spend our money, said Farrell Mendez, 39, who lives in the Back of The Yards community, in the 60609 ZIP code.

In almost every Black community, you can find a liquor store that sells lottery tickets, said Sherman Oaks, 56, who lives in the Garfield Park area on the West Side, which is part of the 60632 ZIP code.

Blacks are killing themselves with alcohol and cigarettes, and now we have found something new to spend all our money on and thats the lottery, Oaks said. Basically, Blacks keep the Illinois Lottery in business.

However, lottery officials said there are no more retail vendors in Black communities than there are in white communities, but they admit there are no restrictions on how many vendors can be located in one community either. There are 7,500 lottery vendors in Illinois and 1,520 located in the Chicago area.
One retail vendor, who sells lottery tickets in the 60619, said most of the customers buying tickets are seniors.

We get a lot of Black, middle-class seniors who come here to buy their lottery tickets, said Velma Lockett, a cashier at a grocery store in the Chatham community. And with the economy all messed up, seniors are probably the only ones with disposable money, so I'm not surprised to see a lot of them everyday in here.

Nothing but Blacks come to buy hundreds of dollars worth of lottery tickets each day, said Franseen Walker, 34, a vendor who sells lottery tickets at a gas station in the 60628 ZIP code. And the sad part is that a lot of the Blacks who buy tickets are unemployed. I can see them walk over here from the public aid office and unemployment office down the street.

According to lottery officials, there are 44 vendors in the 60619 ZIP code and 43 in the 60628. But in the 60647 Zip code, whose residents are predominately white, there are 69 vendors. Other ZIP codes with predominantly white residents that were among the top 10 ZIP codes with the highest ticket sales had a similar number vendors: 60639 has 61 vendors; 60634, 42; and 60453, 35 vendors, according to lottery data.

Winnett said the lottery does not target minority communities when placing advertisements nor does it encourage more retail vendors in Black communities.

I think the lottery is meeting its purpose, and thats to raise funds for schools. We run a responsible business here, Winnett said. Clearly by the sales figures this past fiscal year, a lot of money from minority areas was spent playing the lottery, but that is not the result of us targeting a specific area to boost sales.

She added that playing the lottery is not only a tradition but also an American culture and an accessible form of entertainment.

And the odds of winning the lottery depend on what game is played.

The odds of winning the grand prize for the Mega Millions game is 1 out of 175 million; Lotto, 1 out of 10.1 million and for Little Lotto, 1 out of 515, 757. The best odds for winning are the $20 Instant game where the odds are 1 out of 2.9.

But religious leaders such as the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, 752 E. 114th St., disapprove of the lottery.

He said Blacks should realize that gambling only hurts communities and rarely does it help improve them. Salem, with 17,000 members, is the largest church in the 60628 ZIP code.

It should dawn on people that with the lottery as with any other type of gambling, the house wins and the neighborhood loses, Meeks said.

But Darcel Thompson, 49, a lottery player who lives in the 60617 ZIP code, said with times being so hard she sees gambling as the only alternative to getting more money.

I have won as much as $5,000 so I know playing the lottery could lead to good things, she said.
Financial advisers said more investment education is needed in the Black community to combat this type of thinking.

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Blacks Ignore Saving For Wealth

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