No matter where you gamble the house always wins. And when it comes to state lotteries, some states pocket more of your bets than others.
Lottery fever intensified across the U.S. this week as the multistate Powerball jackpot soared to $1.5 billion, making it the largest prize ever paid. Ticket sales remained strong ahead of Wednesday's drawing, likely boosting the final payout. Powerball tickets are sold in 44 states, Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories.
State-run lotteries have been around since the U.S. was founded, but since the modern era of government games in the 1960s, they've become a multibillion-dollar enterprise, taking in nearly $62 billion in sales in the 2013 fiscal year, according to the latest available Census data.
That year, after paying out nearly $39 billion in prizes, and $3.2 billion on operating expenses, states collected some $20 billion in proceeds to fund a long list of programs and services, from education to social services. On average, that works out to about 62 cents in prizes for every dollar the states take in from lottery revenues.
But not all states are as generous with their payouts as others. West Virginia, which took in $720 million in lottery revenues in fiscal 2013, paid out just $116 million in prizes – or about 16 cents of every dollar. Other low payout states include Delaware (22 cents), South Dakota (22 cents), Oregon (24 cents) and Rhode Island (28 cents).