Lottery has deep roots in history, hand in future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Virginia Lottery, in its various forms, entices many with the possibility of hitting it big and the thrill of holding that winning ticket.

Playing the lottery is by no means a new venture. According to, an online resource for lottery information, scholars have found that lotteries date back before the beginning of many civilizations. For instance, it was found that in Ancient Rome, during the times of Caesar, a lottery was in effect. In 100 B.C., the Chinese created the game, “keno.” The game, which involves the choosing of Chinese characters, was used to fund Chinese defenses, in particular the building of the Great Wall.

By the 1700s, the lottery had become an internationally accepted practice. Countries such as France, England, Belgium and Italy had all adopted a version of lottery playing. Italy actually is credited for coining the term “lottery” after the word “lotto,” meaning destiny or fate. With so much international support, it was no wonder the United States would begin its own lottery playing. Forefathers such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson each operated lotteries to raise funds. Franklin used the lottery to fund the use of cannons during the Revolutionary War. Washington constructed Mountain Road, which helped expand Virginia. Jefferson had gone bankrupt and used a lottery to give away some of his bulk property.

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Throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the lottery grew in popularity and the lotto system expanded. In 1988, the Virginia Lottery was born. At the beginning, the lottery was used for capital construction funds. Then, in 1990, lottery funds went straight to the commonwealth’s General Fund. That was the practice until 2000, when Virginians voted to create the State Lottery Proceeds Fund, which allows all proceeds to go straight to educational purposes.

Today, the Virginia Lottery is still booming and a major force within the lotto industry, raising more than $17 billion less than two decades after its inception.

Suffolk is a major contributor to lottery games of every kind. From scratch cards to Pick 4 numbers, Suffolk citizens spent more than $19.5 million on the lottery in the last fiscal year.

According to the Virginia Lottery website, the lottery overall raised more than $1.3 billion this year, an all-time high since the lottery’s beginning. Based on these figures, more than $454 million was allotted for all schools, kindergarten through 12th grades, in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Of that, Suffolk Public Schools received more than $2.3 million to benefit school programming and upkeep.

But, while the schools are benefiting, is anyone else?

Winnings are hard to accurately calculate. Those who win more than $600 have to identify themselves for tax purposes. However, most winning tickets are for much less

and do not require identification of any kind, so it is hard to gauge how much of that more than $19 million

was won back by Suffolk citizens, said Virginia Lottery officials.

That is not to say, however, that Suffolk has not been home to some big winners in the past. For example, in 1999, Robert Perry won a brand new Harley Davidson after playing the scratch card game, “Harley Davidson,” from the Virginia Lottery. Then, in 2000, Carla Respess won $1,000 a week for the rest of her life from a scratch card, “Lifetime Bonus.”

It is, perhaps, these winning examples that keep many buying more tickets in hopes of obtaining similar success. Retailers benefit from that hope. The highest seller in the city is J and L Food Mart in Whaleyville. The small and modest store sold more than $1.8 million worth of tickets last year, making it the 25th highest seller in the state.

“We have regular customers from Ahoskie (North Carolina) come in here,” said store employee Anita Hall. “We sell a lot of scratch tickets, Pick 3, Pick 4, sometimes three hundred dollars. Then, we have several who’ll spend (another) one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars on scratch cards. And scratch tickets, I’ve sold as much as four hundred dollars.”

The store, which has a short order menu and tables to eat a meal, has dedicated the entire right side of the venue to lotto. There are two giant ticket machines that allow the customer to pick their choice of 48 different scratch cards, a station designated for filling out playslips and charts with past winning numbers on the walls.

Other retailers boast high lottery sales as well. The other top selling stores are: the Red Barn Food Store on Pinner Street, which sold more than $1.1 million worth of tickets; the Holiday Food Store on North Main Street sold more than $1 million; the Red Apple on Carolina Road sold more than $900,000; and the Azhar C-Store Harborview on Townpoint Road sold about $738,000 worth of tickets.

With rising sales each year, the lottery is not losing any steam within the South Hampton Roads area. From picking up the latest scratch card, to religiously playing the last four digits of a social security number in the Pick 4 game, Suffolk citizens are helping to keep the Virginia Lottery up and running.