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Maryland's love affair with the lottery at an all-time high

Dec 19, 2016, 9:14 am

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Maryland Lottery

If you dream of winning the lottery and want to improve your chances of hitting it big, try your luck at Central City Liquors in Hagerstown, Maryland.

The liquor store at 401 W. Washington St., shelled out the most cash to winners in Washington County, this year and last, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

"We aren't able to provide the location where the most winners were sold, but the top cashing retailer in Washington County, for both calendar year 2015 and calendar year 2016 to date, is Central City Liquors," Seth Elkin, senior writer and public affairs specialist for Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said in an email. "The winning tickets that lottery players cashed there totaled the most prize money paid out by any retailer in the county."

Meanwhile, Maryland's love for the lottery is at an all-time high, as the state generated $1.908 billion in fiscal 2016, $113 million more than the previous sales record of $1.795 billion in fiscal 2012, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

Record-setting Powerball sales, Mega Millions, higher scratch-off sales and the addition of the Cash4Life game, Maryland's 10th draw game which launched in January, helped to fuel the lottery's record year.

Though the gaming control agency does not have sales figures broken down county-by-county, Washington County saw 1.52 percent of total sales in the state in fiscal 2015.

Central City Liquors is one of 119 retailers that sold lottery tickets in Washington County in fiscal 2015, the most recent year available. That number is actually down from fiscal 2014, with 126 retailers selling lottery games.

Shad Hamilton and Greg Nuse, both managers at Central City Liquors, said they're not surprised their store has cashed out the most money.

"We're one of only two places in the county that can cash up to $5,000 on a single ticket," Hamilton said. "Anyone with a winning ticket over $600 comes to our store, because we can cash up to $5,000."

Hamilton declined to say how much commission the store makes on lottery games. He also declined to comment on how much prize money they awarded last year and this.

"We've had quite a few winners," Nuse said. "Quite a few years ago, we had a $100,000 winner."

Central City Liquors is one of approximately 300 retailers in Maryland that have Expanded Cashing Authority (XCAP) to cash winning tickets up to $5,000, Elkin said. Non-XCAP retailers are only able to cash winning tickets up $600.

The Sunoco Food Mart at 1000 Dual Highway in Hagerstown is one such retailer. Despite only having the authority to cash up to $600, they are the top selling retailer in Washington County for calendar years 2015 and 2016, according to Elkin.

The station's manager, Yogesh Patel, declined to comment for this story.

Nuse said this time of year, scratch-offs are the top sellers at his store.

"A lot of people give those as gifts," he said.

Who plays?

The Powerball jackpot winners and the lucky scratch-off recipients get flashed across the screen or front page of the newspaper, proudly holding their life-size Maryland lottery check. And many a person has fantasized or made imaginary lists of what he or she would do with all that money.

The lottery, a form of legalized government gambling, seems to attract the largest numbers of players from poorer populations, according to numerous studies.

For instance, a 2011 paper in the Journal of Gambling Studies, co-sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling and the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, concluded that lower-income populations are still the leading patrons of the lottery.

In Maryland, Baltimore, which was ranked the sixth poorest city in the United States by CBS Money Watch in 2015, saw 10.42 percent of its 622,793 residents play the lottery in fiscal year 2015, the most recent number available from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

In Washington County, 2.50 percent of the 149,573 residents played the lottery in fiscal 2015. That number is down slightly from fiscal 2014, which saw 2.67 percent of the population playing lottery games.

Fiscal 2016, ran from July 1, 2015 to June 30.

Since the lottery's inception in 1973, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming has paid more than $22.2 billion in prizes to players and generated more than $14.4 billion toward schools, colleges, public health, public safety and the environment, according to a fiscal 2015 financial report.

"A big chunk (of the lottery proceeds) goes to the state's general fund," Elkin said. "We don't distribute the funds so it's hard to say dollar for dollar where it goes after that."

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