Krissy Wilcox has been selling lottery tickets at a service station on Madison’s Far East Side for as long as the Wisconsin Lottery has been around — nearly 30 years.
In her experience, lottery players come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, though over the past decade she has noticed more customers buying lottery tickets and then asking if the convenience store accepts food stamps.
“It seems to be a lower-income class that’s buying the scratch-offs regularly,” Wilcox said.
There may be something to Wilcox’s hunch. Per capita lottery sales in Wisconsin trend higher in neighborhoods with lower median incomes, according to a Wisconsin State Journal review of 2015 lottery sales data provided by the Department of Revenue.
The finding comes as Gov. Scott Walker has proposed in the 2017-19 state budget increasing the amount of lottery revenue for advertising by $3 million a year to $10.5 million, a 40 percent increase.
It would be the first increase in lottery advertising in a decade with the goal of generating more lottery sales for property tax relief. However, at least one Republican legislator, Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, opposes the move and has asked that it be removed from the budget.
Hutton objects to the disproportionate impact of lottery sales on low-income people based on his review of ZIP code sales data. The State Journal review of ZIP code sales data found some evidence to support his argument, though there are several caveats.
In 2015, median lottery sales were $111 per person in the 67 ZIP codes with median incomes below $40,000. In the 84 ZIP codes with median incomes above $70,000, median per capita lottery sales were $78, the State Journal found.
Per capita sales in 2015 decreased roughly $1 for every $1,000 of additional median income, according to Marquette University Law School political science professor Charles Franklin, who reviewed the State Journal analysis. However, the data also showed some of the poorest areas with much lower per capita sales similar to the wealthiest areas.
“While places of lesser means are buying more tickets per capita, and that does go down as income rises, it certainly shows that the lottery attracts more revenue per capita from people in the lower-middle income categories,” Franklin said. “It does not appear that most of the sales or a disproportionate amount are coming from the very lowest income levels.”