Nebraska Lottery celebrates 25 years
It's been 25 years since Nebraskans began putting a dollar on a dream by purchasing state lottery tickets. A lot has changed since then.
In 1993, there was one Scratch game. Now there are more than 30.
Then, each ticket cost $1. Now Scratch tickets are $1, $2, $3, $5 $10 or $20.
The top prize in 1993 was $5,000. Now the top prizes for Scratch games range up to $200,000.
Neither Mega Millions nor Powerball existed in Nebraska. Now the multi-state lotteries (which include Nebraska) have awarded jackpots toppling $1.5 billion.
What's more, there was no extra pot of revenue for state causes. The Nebraska Lottery has since raised more than $700 million in the last quarter century for educational, environmental and compulsive gambling programs as well as the State Fair.
"We have been here to support some really good causes," Lottery Director Brian Rockey said. "It's benefited all 93 counties. Virtually every single Nebraskan has been reached by these programs."
Nebraska became the 37th state to operate a lottery when officials kicked off the program in 1993.
Then-Gov. Ben Nelson had pushed for the gambling initiative to help fund educational programs. The Legislature in turn decided to divvy up the state's lottery profits among education, the environment and gambling addiction treatment. In 2004, Nebraska voters approved a constitutional amendment that revised lottery allocations to include the Nebraska State Fair.
In true ceremonial fashion, Nelson was the first person in the state to buy a lottery ticket, said Neil Watson, Nebraska Lottery spokesman.
The lottery buzz caught on immediately among Nebraskans, and the first top prize was awarded only a few weeks after the lottery began, Watson said.
"Game number one sold, and when it sold out, we came out with game number two," Watson said.
Scratch tickets in 2018 have catchy names like "Multitude of Money," "Flawless Fortune," "Winter Takes It All" and "Lucky Ladybug Crossword."
Powerball launched in 1994; since then, Nebraskans have won 10 jackpots worth more than $600 million. The Powerball jackpot starts at $40 million and continues to grow by at least $10 million each drawing until it is won.
About $1.50 out of every $2 lottery ticket is plowed back into prize money or covers the administrative costs of operating the lottery. The remainder is dedicated to specific needs as is set out in state statutes. The breakdown among the four beneficiaries:
- 44.5 percent to the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund
- 44.5 percent to the Nebraska Environmental Trust
- 10 percent to the Nebraska State Fair
- 1 percent to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund
Every three months, each of the groups gets money from the lottery. In recent years, those quarterly distributions have totaled $8 million to $12 million — except for the first quarter of 2016, when a record Powerball jackpot pushed the total to $14 million, the highest amount in the Nebraska Lottery's 25-year history.
Over the past 25 years, more than $700 million in lottery money has paid for programs that protect wildlife and improve water quality; boost the state's educational fund; provide grant programs at the state's public universities, private colleges and community colleges; cover state fair facilities costs; and support treatment programs for people who are addicted to gambling.
Record Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots in the fourth quarter of 2018 are likely to translate to more than $900,000 in "extra" profits to Nebraska beneficiaries, according to Lottery officials.
"Every time you buy a lottery ticket," Watson said, "You build a better Nebraska."