State’s Veterans Raffle sales disappoint again

The holder of ticket No. 023916 is the million-dollar winner of the state Veterans Raffle, according to the state Lottery agency, which announced the winning numbers Thursday. But after lackluster ticket sales, the intended beneficiaries — veterans — are not likely to see much of a jackpot.

“It is disappointing,” said Veterans Legislative Coalition Chairman Jim Sims, “because considering the fiscal situation the Legislature is going to have to deal with, there aren’t many (other) funds that are available to help the veterans (such as) the guardsmen and reservists who are returning from active duty.”

Players bought 127,924 of the 200,000 tickets Washington’s Lottery had hoped to sell in its second year, far fewer than the first raffle that also fell short of fundraising expectations.

At $10 each, the tickets should raise enough to cover expenses and prizes — the $1 million grand prize plus $40,000 in smaller payouts — with little left over for the Veterans Innovations Program that awards small grants to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lottery officials are still figuring out how much the program will get.

It’s difficult to say why the raffle created by state lawmakers hasn’t taken off, said Lottery spokesman Arlen Harris. But, he said, similar programs in other states mostly haven’t been great successes.

He said officials would talk to lawmakers, including the raffle’s main champion in the Legislature, Sen. Steve Conway, to find a way to either improve it, or eliminate it and identify another source of Lottery money for the veterans program.

Washington is home to more than 60,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan alone, and Conway is convinced the large military and veteran population would buy tickets if they knew about the raffle.

“We’ve had two years here where we’ve had to struggle to reach them, and I think it’s probably going to call for a re-evaluation,” said Conway, D-Tacoma.

“It’s time to look at it and ask ourselves, is there a better way?”

He said he’s not opposed to diverting some general lottery proceeds to veterans, but expects that would run into opposition from those who want the games devoted solely to education.

The inaugural raffle last year raised $247,000 for the veterans program, less than expected but still welcomed by a program that had been cut off from the state budget. That first contest sold 98 percent of tickets — but only after a major advertising effort that ate into proceeds.

The raffle got a new name and new dates intended to drive up sales but also much less advertising. Harris said that was because of a pending lawsuit from a frequent critic of the agency who contends that the Lottery misrepresented how much money was spent on advertising and promotions.

Lottery initially released incorrect winning numbers, which it later corrected, blaming the error on a computer glitch.