This is the first story in a four-part series on the Kentucky lottery and its local and state impact
Most members of James Carrier's family have earned their largely modest income from the soil. But there is one relative of the retired Crab Orchard area farmer who a little more than a decade ago planted a "seed" that turned her into a millionaire.
The seed, in this case, came not from a farm supply shop but from a convenience store.
Back in 1994, one of Carrier's aunts, Beverly Pitt, also of Crab Orchard, bought a lottery ticket. She gave the ticket to her sister, Ruth Forest of Nicholasville. Forest won $8 million. She then set about sharing her new-found wealth.
"As a thank you, Aunt Ruth gave Aunt Beverly some of the winnings, and Aunt Beverly used about $200,000 to buy a farm," said Carrier.
Carrier and his wife, Ann, also have won a few lottery games. But if they were to add up their winnings over the last 15 years, they might have enough money to buy a gate for Aunt Beverly's farm.
"The most I have won is $50 from playing the $1-a-ticket Cash Ball game, and I've won a few dollars from scratch-offs," said Carrier. "Mostly, I just break even."
Carrier's wife, Ann, also is a frequent player.
"I love to play," she said. "I've never won more than $10 here or $4 or $5 there, but it's fun, and there's always the hope of winning a big prize. Until then, I just use what few dollars I may win to pay for food or gas."
The Carriers' rationale for playing Kentucky Lottery Corp. games and their results were echoed by many of the two dozen people interviewed outside area convenience stores and gas-and-food mart establishments that sell lottery tickets and also the Wal-Mart SuperCenter, where tickets aren't sold.
From 1999 to 2004, area players spent $62 million
Since the lottery corporation started in 1989, the Carriers and fellow players across Kentucky have paid nearly $8 billion for lottery tickets, and they have won $4 billion in prizes. From fiscal year 1999 through fiscal year 2004, players in Boyle, Casey, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties have spent $62 million on tickets and received $38 million in prize money.
Most players said they enjoy buying tickets with the hope of winning big but realize that isn't likely and, thus, are content to use what winnings they get to pay for food, gas and rent money.
"I buy a ticket or two every time I'm in a store that sells them," said Sondra Wilson, a Junction City homemaker. "It might be just a scratch-off ticket or maybe a Power Ball. Whatever I'm buying, I'm doing it because of the fun of it, and because I have won a few dollars."
Wilson said she has yet to "strike it rich," but she holds out hope of one day winning big.
"The most I've ever won has been $200. But I usually win a few dollars ever so often," she said. "Sure, I'd like to win a million dollars, but as long as I'm at least breaking even, it's fine with me. And, those weeks where I'm a few dollars ahead, that's money that can help pay a few bills."
Wilson said she hasn't been able to play for a few weeks. Sworn off the habit?
"No, I suffered a mini-stroke. Been laid up a while," she said. "But I'm better now, and I'll be back to the stores buying tickets when I can. I've kind of missed it. It's kind of like a pastime for me."
Chris Curtis of Hustonville, a process technician at a Lexington plant, spends $5 to $10 a week on lottery game tickets. His favorites are Kentucky Lotto and Power Ball. So far, he's come up empty.
"I've never won anything," Curtis said with a laugh. "My big dream is to hit the lottery and be able to retire. But for now, I'd just settle on winning a few dollars to pay for a tank of gasoline."
Randy Faux, a retired Danville police officer, said he also has not "hit the big one," but has won a few dollars playing Power Ball.
"I play for fun. I have not deluded myself into thinking I can become a millionaire - at least not yet," said Faux, laughing.
On a more serious note, Faux said he is disappointed that the few dollars he does spend on lottery games don't all go for education.
"We were sold a bill of goods," he said, referring to the broken promises made by proponents of the lottery back in the late 1980s that proceeds, above what goes to winners and retailers and administrative costs, would be put in the state education budget. From fiscal year 1989 to fiscal year 1998, most lottery money that goes to the state was put in the general fund; from 1999 on, most of it has gone to educational scholarships and grants.
"I know of several states where all or most lottery money goes directly to the public schools," he said. "In New York, all of it goes to education, while in Pennsylvania, half of it goes to education and the other half to senior citizen programs."
Some see it as gambling and "morally wrong"
Meanwhile, Audra Wilson of Danville has nothing to be disappointed about regarding lottery winnings or where the lottery proceeds go in the state budget. She has never played and never will.
"I just don't believe in it (the lottery)," said Wilson. " I just think it's gambling and gambling is morally wrong."
James Carl Cook of Junction City agreed.
"Playing the lottery is gambling, pure and simple, and it's wrong," Cook said. "A lot of people who play the lottery are poor and the money they spend on those tickets should be going to pay for shoes for their children and food for the family.
"I know a boy who gets $600 a month from Social Security and he spends almost every dime on the lottery," he said. "At the most he might make a few dollars, but generally he's broke at the end of every month."
John T. Davis of Danville, a retired construction company employee, can't relate a story about a man going broke playing the lottery, but he said he personally doesn't want to take that chance.
"I don't ever play the lottery," said Davis. "My Christian beliefs tell gambling is wrong, and the lottery is gambling.
"Now, I don't want to condemn anyone who plays the lottery. That's their business," he said. "But I know I don't want to bet me and my family's well-being on a lottery ticket. I have a moral obligation to work for a living, not try to gamble for it."
Lisa Roller of Danville, a homemaker and mother, echoed Davis' sentiment.
"I have three children, ages 1, 9 and 12, and I don't have extra money now to pay for all the clothing and other things they need," said Roller. "I can't afford to waste a cent on a game. Every penny we have goes for the kids, and our household bills."
Roller said she doesn't understand the mentality that motivates players.
"They say it's fun. They say they might win a few extra dollars," she said. "What happens when they don't have those few extra dollars to pay a bill that's past due? That can't be a lot of fun."