It may seem unbelievable to some, but Powerball isn’t played in all fifty states. In fact, it’s only played in 45. We decided to find out why those last 5 states just can’t seem to shake hands and be nice with lottery legislation.
When it comes to large lottos, Powerball is seen as both a blessing and a curse depending on who you talk to. For varying reasons, these 5 states really don't want the big game knocking at their door. We put our lotto experts to the test to find out why.
Whenever a large jackpot rolls onto the scene, thousands of Alabamians cross the border to buy Powerball tickets. Although playing the lottery within the state is banned, its popularity hasn’t wavered, and public opinion is more in favour of making it legal to play both Powerball and Mega Millions within the state. So if it’s so popular, why haven’t legislators passed it into law?
It’s not for a lack of trying on their part, a bill to pass lottery games into law has passed the Senate and even recently went so far as to end up on the House floor in April 2021, where it, unfortunately, died the following month due to deadline expiry.
The Track Owners Association spokesperson Robert Kennedy Jr said in an interview in September 2021 that lawmakers could pass the bill easily if they wanted to, however, Senate Rep Arthur Orr disagreed with the comment, saying the issue was a lot more complicated than companies give it credit for. As it stands, roughly $700M that could go to the state because of lotto funding, ends up in the hands of neighbouring states, such as Florida, Tennesse, Mississippi and Georgia. Alabama is currently ranked 47th in education, something that the lottery could fix if implemented, as part of the agreement with operating the game is to give a portion to the education system consistently.
The remote state is in a bit of a unique situation when it comes to the lottery. Its population just isn’t high enough to make the premise seem viable. If you run the numbers you can sort of understand why. There are less than a million people living in Alaska according to the 2020 census. Only 736,081 people live in the remote region, ranking them 50th in overall population versus space. Alaska is also doing well financially, ranking 8th in income over all 50 states and having a rather large oil reserve to fall back on if needed. Although it is true that the lottery may bring some benefit to the state, locals have decided that they’re just fine as is, thanks all the same.
Alaska does allow state-run charity lotteries at a local level, which supports many non-profits in the region, but as of 1995, it is illegal to gamble outside of these revenues in the snowy region.
Hawaii is one of only 2 states to contain no forms of gambling, not even at the local level. Their decision for why is simple: Tourism. Hawaii has long been a beloved destination for Americans and even around the globe, and the island nation very much wants to keep it that way. Residents are not deterred from buying tickets out of state, but with their borders all being a little bit too wet to walk through, it's a bit more of a challenge than the other states on our list.
Why is Hawaii so determined to be lotto free for tourism? Here’s a message from its State Senator explained in 2002. Sen. Daniel Inouye views were clear; having a lottery just wasn't the kind of picture he wanted to paint for Hawaii. He stated that introducing gambling would “attract a different type of people” and that he very much wanted to keep a family-friendly aspect within the Hawaiian tourism board. He said that Hawaii was a place for “young folks to go on their honeymoon”. Although Sen. Inouye passed in 2012, his remarks made a decade earlier still resonate with a large proportion of the island's residents.
Despite this, there could be hope for a lottery in the future, and it has something to do with the reason plane ticket are super cheap at the moment. Hawaii has been crippled by its almost 2-year long fight with a lack of tourism and although some hotels are starting to see an uptick in bookings, one strongly worded news article or WHO scare could bring that all crashing down before you have the chance to say variant. Currently, a bill is on the table for a 5-year state lottery to test the waters.
It may seem a little crazy that the state that created the city of Las Vegas doesn’t have a lottery operator, but that’s actually exactly what lawmakers had in mind when they made the decision over 80 years ago. Nevada, like most of the rest of America, was in the midst of Prohibition in the 1910s and 1920s. Nevada was actually the last state to enact prohibition, as the Las Vegas stop at the time was a prominent area for travellers and generated a lot of business. Reluctantly, with mounting pressure, they signed the bill. For 20 years, Las Vegas was “dry” if by dry you mean making moonshine in bathtubs and digging out space for secret underground gambling rings.
It stayed this way until 1930 when then-President Hoover signed a bill to build the now infamous Hoover Dam, (then known as “Boulder Dam”). Work began in 1931 and the Las Vegas population quadrupled overnight due to the mass need for construction workers. This newfound wealth source spurred a wave of shady new businesses, from showgirls to Mafia-run speakeasies and backroom poker deals. The government tried to protect its workers by creating and housing them in the state-run Boulder City, but workers would often sneak out anyway as the feeling was too much to resist. Finally in 1931, seemingly having enough with errant workers and illegal gambling, the Nevada state legislature legalised casino gambling within the state, which started the journey of what we know Las Vegas is today.
But what happened to the lottery? Officials decided in the 1940s as prohibition was ending, that they would not become a two-pronged system of casino and lotto, stating that it was better for Nevada and Nevadians. The only lottery games allowed in the state are school or charity based and cannot exceed a certain size. It seems that even the industry isn’t all that interested in getting in on the action, but maybe they feel like they don’t want to rock the boat on a Casino powerhouse state.
The heavily religious state of Utah does not allow any form of gambling within its borders, mostly thanks to its legislators who are mostly Mormons. That often doesn’t deter residents though and, just like in the case of Alabama, whenever the jackpot gets high enough people will simply get in their cars and drive across state to either Idaho or Wyoming. Speaking of Idaho, you may not be able to play the lottery there either in the near future and we explain why just below!
Back to Utah, home of some the holy than thou people you’ll ever meet. Over half of all Utahns are Mormons, with the majority belonging to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Because of this, Utah is uniquely linked with Hawaii, as neither state allows gambling of any kind. Utah also has strict laws on alcohol sales, disallowing distribution in supermarkets or grocers, instead, limited to licenced liquor stores only and made illegal to open on Sundays.
Before we wrap up for this edition, I just wanted to talk a bit about Mississippi. If this article had been written just a few years ago, you probably would have seen their name on this list, because they didn’t pass a legislative bill until 2018. Lottery tickets went on sale for the first time on 25th November 2019 and made $2.5 million dollars in revenue on the first day. In January 2020 Mega Millions and Powerball tickets were instigated just in time for retailers to shut their doors again 2 months later.
I promised you a payoff on Idaho and if you've read this far you will be rewarded. It should be noted that Idaho has stated it will withdraw from all participation in the game after it was announced that Powerball planned to expand its business to both the UK and Australia. However, as of writing, those plans have not gone into effect, and Idaho is still participating in the draws. The perceived August 2021 deadline in place for implementation in Australia has long passed with no clear update on when plans will if ever be achieved. Idaho was one of the first states to sign up for Powerball when it emerged onto the scene in 1992, but the 10 to 4 decision to withdraw from the game entirely sent a clear picture to the industry. To find out everything Powerball has been up to recently, please check out our latest guide and see why the changes have ruffled some feathers.