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updated: 6/30/2014 4:56 AM

Suburbs see steep lottery sales growth

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  • Video: Mundelein lottery player

  • Video: Lottery tickets in Barrington

  • Clerk Aaron Adams talks about the lottery as he works behind the counter at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.

       Clerk Aaron Adams talks about the lottery as he works behind the counter at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Maurice Shoots of Mundelein buys lottery tickets at the Car Spa Shell in Libertyville.

       Maurice Shoots of Mundelein buys lottery tickets at the Car Spa Shell in Libertyville.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Ray Witczak of Barrington, left, talks to clerk Aaron Adams while playing the lottery at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.

       Ray Witczak of Barrington, left, talks to clerk Aaron Adams while playing the lottery at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Maurice Shoots of Mundelein scratches off an Illinois Lottery ticket.

       Maurice Shoots of Mundelein scratches off an Illinois Lottery ticket.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Otto Coleman, left, night shift clerk at Car Spa Shell in Libertyville, accepts a winning ticket from Mundelein resident Maurice Shoots.

       Otto Coleman, left, night shift clerk at Car Spa Shell in Libertyville, accepts a winning ticket from Mundelein resident Maurice Shoots.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Clerk Aaron Adams talks about various ways to play the lottery as he works behind the counter at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.

       Clerk Aaron Adams talks about various ways to play the lottery as he works behind the counter at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Various lottery games are on display at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.

       Various lottery games are on display at the Circle K convenience store on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

Every weekday on his way home from work, Maurice Shoots stops at the Car Spa Shell gas station and convenience store on Peterson Road in Libertyville to try his luck at the Illinois Lottery.

It's been a lucky spot before, having sold a $1 million ticket in March 2012 for the then-new Gold Bullion game, from which the store still leverages advertising mileage.

The Mundelein resident's preferred game is "20 Years of Cash," a $2 scratch-off game that can pay up to $2,000 a week plus $200,000 immediately.

"Sometimes I mix it up, but this one I buy every day. That's my dream of hitting this one day," said Shoots, who has been playing lottery games for many years.

More and more people in the suburbs appear to be joining him as the Illinois Lottery is set to celebrate 40 years since it began on July 1, 1974.

An analysis of numbers from the Illinois Lottery shows that while far more lottery tickets are bought in Chicago, in recent years the amount spent trying to win riches grew faster in many suburbs than in the city.

In Libertyville's 60048 ZIP code, sales rose 35.5 percent from the 2011 to 2013 state fiscal years, growing from about $2.8 million in sales to about $3.8 million, Illinois Lottery records show. Lottery sales were up 87 percent in the 60081 ZIP code of Spring Grove and 88.9 percent in Oak Brook's 60523 ZIP code.

Near the Medinah Country Club in DuPage County, sales in the 60157 ZIP code shot up 116.3 percent, but only because sales there were already so low. The area's sales hit about $97,500 in the 2013 fiscal year.

Compare that to the biggest ZIP code in the state for lottery sales, 60619 on the South Side of Chicago, where sales only rose by 3.4 percent over the three years but ended at just more than $30 million.

Ray Witczak wore a business suit while buying a Powerball ticket at the Circle K convenience store this week on Lake-Cook Road in Barrington. Lottery sales in the Barrington area's 60010 ZIP code rose 35.4 percent, to about $2 million, between 2011 and 2013.

Witczak laughs after saying that he plays the lottery these days out of "desperation."

"It's my retirement plan now," the Barrington resident said. "I've gone through the couch for change as much as I can."

Witczak started working as the driver of a white stretch limousine a few years ago after losing his job as a construction project manager.

"I'm making about a third of what I used to, but it's a job," Witczak said.

The key to increased lottery sales, most people agree, is to get more people to play instead of trying to persuade habitual players to play more. If that's the case, the suburbs could be ripe for potential growth as lottery officials try to make the cash-strapped state more in profits.

Officials from Northstar Lottery Group, which has a 10-year contract to manage the Illinois Lottery, said one reason for the relative growth in the suburbs is the company agreed, at the state's request, not to add more retailers in 30 Chicago ZIP codes with some of the heaviest sales.

Northstar CEO Tim Simonson said the company's biggest gains recently are in chain convenience stores, which also could add to suburban sales growth.

"Over the last 12 or 18 months, the top-performing retailers in the state are corporate chains," Simonson said.

Illinois Lottery Director Michael Jones urged caution in reading the numbers.

A big jackpot in a game could spur sales in one year more than another, and sales could be down in the state fiscal year that ends next week.

Plus, he said, Northstar's contract with the state is to grow profits, not sales. Instant tickets that have driven lottery growth are less profitable, he said.

"Their profit goals are reachable with a strategy that reaches a broad group of people," he said.

The ZIP code numbers don't include online sales, which started in 2012 for three games. But Simonson said Internet sales are only about 5 percent of what the lottery sells.

Some officials have called for Northstar's contract to be canceled because it hasn't met its profit-gaining goals, keeping the state from getting as much new money as expected.

But Simonson argues profits are going up, even if not as far as expected.

The lottery is a form of gambling that fights for space in the state with casinos, horse racing and video gambling in bars and restaurants.

The other forms are the subject of much of the gambling debate in Springfield, but the lottery by far gives lawmakers the most money to spend.

In 2013, the state took in $794 million from the lottery, according to a nonpartisan report. Casinos provided less than half that at $345 million. Video gambling machines sent $30 million in revenue and horse racing made just $7 million in taxes and fees for the state.

In the last 10 years, lottery tax revenues rose $250 million while casinos sent the state $210 million less.

Jones said the lottery is different from those other traditional gambling options because people don't often think of it as gambling.

Tickets are often bought as a side thought during a trip to the store, he said, unlike a dedicated trip to the casino.

"People decide to go to the casino and gamble," he said.

Aaron Adams, a clerk at the Circle K in Barrington, said the higher the payout, the more likely that someone who doesn't often buy lottery tickets will go ahead and buy one.

Adams said he has also had affluent customers drop $100 on lottery tickets at a time.

"I'd rather see some poor guy in the middle of nowhere win it than somebody like that," Adams said. "If you can blow $100 on Lotto tickets you've already got money in the bank."

Regulars dream big, though.

Otto Coleman, who has been working at the Car Spa in Libertyville for three years, says there are about 10 night shift regulars who play the same amount on the same games every day. One describes his $20 regular investment in tickets for Lotto with an Extra Shot as his "regular tonic," according to Coleman.

"People like it," he says.

When he started playing, Shoots said there were six or seven scratch-off games, compared to about two dozen now. On a recent week night, he paid $6 for tickets and won $5, which he reinvested and won another $20.

"It's the excitement of the possibility of winning this amount of money," he says. "In my mind, I know it's a long shot, but that excitement is there. It's a possibility."

• Daily Herald staff writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this story.

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