DES MOINES — Whether your pleasure is scraping off scratch tickets, playing the Pick 3 game or hoping for a giant Powerball payout, the Iowa Lottery is ready to make the sale. And judging by a record year for the nearly 30-year-old operation, state residents are definitely lining up to take their chances.
But the lottery began in Iowa with some trepidation, and opposition to the games remains even as profits rise.
Lottery officials announced last week that during the fiscal year which ended June 30, the Iowa lottery sold $339 million in tickets, gave out about $201 million in prizes and yielded almost $85 million for the state, most of which now goes into the general fund. Those are the biggest numbers in the 28 years the lottery has been in business.
“I think it was because the products we had met an entertainment value,” said Lottery CEO Terry Rich, who noted that lottery tickets are an optional purchase. “I think our mix was exceptional.”
The agency’s sales have ballooned since then it was established in 1985 by the Legislature and the governor. During the lottery’s first year, just one game was offered and $85 million in tickets were sold, $39 million given out in prices and nearly $28 million in proceeds went to the state.
Even as sales have grown, some question the lottery’s value.
David Osterberg, a former state lawmaker from Mt. Vernon and a University of Iowa professor, said he thought lottery tickets were a negative for the state.
“I’m an opponent of gambling because it preys upon people who don’t have much money and can’t do math. You can do almost anything better than gamble,” said Osterberg who said he voted against the lottery in 1985, though he approved a lottery plan in a previous year. “If I were to put it on a scale, I would say casinos were much worse than the lottery. But none of them are good.”