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Montana Lottery celebrates 25th anniversary

Jun 26, 2012, 8:12 am

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Montana Lottery

Kimberly Pierce of Helena stopped into the Montana Lottery's 25th anniversary celebration Monday because, among other reasons, it was her birthday.

"Maybe I thought I'd have a little added bonus, luckwise," she said.

The lottery served cake and punch and gave away lottery tickets during the promotional event. A mobile lottery unit, slated for stops around the state this week, offered special deals on tickets.

Pierce favors some of the more involved games — like Crossword Club and Slingo, a variation on bingo.

"I like the ones that take time," Pierce said. "And you think a little bit."

She'd already won a couple of prizes that the lottery was giving out as part of the celebration — a T-shirt, and a pair of what were either water bottles or flasks.

The lottery has changed a lot in 25 years when it began after voters overwhelmingly approved it with 60 percent in support.

At the time, the funds earned by the lottery were intended to displace some of the property tax money that supported the Teachers' Retirement System. Since 1995, the lottery's contributions have been to the state's general fund.

It started in June 1987 with a scratch game, Pot of Gold.  Lotto*America, the predecessor of the multi-state Powerball, began in 1989.

Now, it has scores of games with various themes.

In 25 years, the lottery has paid out more than $428 million to players in prizes and paid more than $193 million to the state.

Lottery Director Angela Wong said this year is seeing growth, which she attributed in part to the popularity of Montana-themed games such as Montana Cash, a Lotto-type game with twice-weekly drawings. Montana Millionaire, a raffle-style game with a drawing New Year's Day and a limited number of tickets available, nearly sold out last year.

Some 800 retailers sell lottery tickets around the state, earning a 5 percent commission on each.

At the event Monday, some people made repeat trips to the ticket-dispensing vehicle to try different games. Some had small children helping them with the scratching.

One man scratching, who would not give his name, said that as a kid, he won a radio station's promotional giveaway of camping equipment — twice in two years.

Now he's helping the economy, he said, pointing at some of the lottery workers. He said he's only won $100 in the lottery, once long ago, and encourages people to play once in a while, just for "kicks and giggles."

"I don't go into the casinos and gamble, so this is kind of my gaming," he said. "If I win big, I'll let you put my name in the paper."

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