The Most Lottery-Happy States

Matt Brownell

Every once in a while the Mega Millions jackpot climbs above $300 million, and the country goes bonkers buying lottery tickets. For the government workers who reportedly won this week's $319 million prize in New York, the effort will pay off far more than they expected.

Even when there isn't a chance for a nine-figure payout, some people just love playing the lottery. Using Census Bureau data on lottery ticket sales and population estimates, we broke down where residents are spending the most on lottery tickets of all types. Here are the 10 states with the highest per-resident lottery spending in 2009 (the latest year available), along with how much the average resident is winning for every dollar he or she spends.

No. 1: Massachusetts

Per-capita lottery spending: $806.57

Winnings per dollar spent: 77.3 cents

My home state of Massachusetts takes top honors, having taken in more than $4 billion in lottery revenues, an average expenditure of more than $800 per adult. But Bay Staters are getting an incredible return of 77 cents on the lotto dollar -- the best return in the country -- meaning that less than $200 is really going down the drain. And there are big winners in the mix: According to the state lottery's website, more than a dozen people in the state have won $1 million or more in the past month.

We're not saying that the lottery is a good investment in Massachusetts, but there are worse things you could spend your money on.

No. 2: Delaware

Per-capita lottery spending: $633.66

Winnings per dollar spent: 15.5 cents

Like West Virginians, Delaware residents are spending gobs of money with miniscule return. Sure, the average return doesn't much matter if you hit the jackpot, but no one in Delaware has won a million or more since the summer of 2009.

No. 3: Rhode Island

Per-capita lottery spending: $598.20

Winnings per dollar spent: 29.3 cents

Rhode Islanders loved to gamble, as evidenced by the state's several casinos (which are often patronized by residents of nearby Massachusetts, where casinos are illegal) and the nearly $600 its residents spent on the state lottery. With just 30 cents per dollar coming back to them on the lottery side, they may want to find another hobby.

No. 4: West Virginia

Per-capita lottery spending: $558.10

Winnings per dollar spent: 15 cents

The average West Virginian spent more than $550 on the lottery in 2009, despite the fact that it ranked as the sixth poorest state in the country that year. And residents only got back about 15 cents on the dollar -- the worst return in the country -- which means that they're throwing away about $475 a year.

No. 5: New York

Per-capita lottery spending: $451.19

Winnings per dollar spent: 58.7 cents

The official motto of the New York State Lottery is "Hey, you never know." That argument is apparently compelling enough to get New Yorkers to part with about $450 each, despite only getting back less than 60 cents per dollar.

No. 6: Georgia

Per-capita lottery spending: $435.89

Winnings per dollar spent: 68 cents

The Georgia State Lottery was created in 1992 by way of constitutional amendment as a means to raise money for public education, and it seems to have worked -- the lottery took in a whopping $3.16 billion in 2009, and claims to have raised $12.3 billion in total funds for education in Georgia.

No. 7: Maryland

Per-capita lottery spending: $362.55

Winnings per dollar spent: 65 cents

Maryland residents get back 65 cents of what they spend on the lottery, so it's not a total money pit. Among the options is the "Double Play" scratch ticket, which awards cash prizes and tickets to Baltimore Orioles games. That said, for the money the average Marylander spends on the lottery, he or she could go to about 20 home games and sit in the bleachers at beautiful Camden Yards.

No. 8: New Jersey

Per-capita lottery spending: $354.82

Winnings per dollar spent: 60.13 cents

New Jersey has faced budget crises during the past couple of years, but it's always been able to count on the state lottery, which hauled in more than $935 million in revenue in 2009. Those who can't get enough of the lottery can even sign up for the "VIP Club" email list, where they'll receive exclusive news about new games and coupons for lottery products.

No. 9: Connecticut

Per-capita lottery spending: $345.18

Winnings per dollar spent: 64.6 cents

The first of three New England states to crack the top 10, the Nutmeg State offers the usual Powerball and Mega Millions options, local favorites like Classic Lotto and an array of scratch tickets.

No. 10: Michigan

Per-capita lottery spending: $312

Winnings per dollar spent: 60.4 cents

Despite an economic downturn that's driving a mass migration from the state's biggest cities, Michigan residents are apparently feeling pretty lucky. The average resident shelled out more than $300 in 2009 on lotto and scratch tickets, placing it 10th on this list.


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