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Every five or six weeks, Doug Rice and his wife, Julie, climb on their motorcycles and ride to Franklin or Malad in Idaho where they buy a few lottery tickets, have lunch and just enjoy being away from the Salt Lake Valley.
"It's a place to go, something to do," Doug Rice said. "We don't have any illusions about hitting it rich in the lottery. I think the biggest jackpot we ever hit was for $90 but lunch was on my wife that day because it was her ticket."
On Wednesday, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill into law that allows the Equality State to set up and run a lottery. As for the Rices, who live in West Jordan, and untold other Utahns, that means about a year from now if lottery mania beckons, they will have another array of destinations to help them get their fix.
"Once the lottery is up and running in Wyoming, I'm sure that we'll ride to Evanston occasionally to buy lottery tickets. But we'll still go to southern Idaho, too," he said.
For nearly 25 years that part of Utah's neighboring state, roughly a two-hour drive from Salt Lake City, has been the place to go for Utahns afflicted with lottery fever. Tens of thousands make the trek every year, particularly when the multi-state Powerball jackpot climbs into the hundreds of millions. (It stood at $260 million Wednesday night).
Yet now, with Wyoming poised to become the 44th state to offer lottery prize drawings, the grip that towns such as Malad and Franklin have held on the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of Utah gamblers may soon be weakening.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get our share of Utahns who want to play the lottery," said Dawn Darby, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. "We're are only about 70 miles away from Salt Lake City and Ogden, so we'll be a shorter drive for a lot of people."
K.C. Spackman, who owns and manages the La Tienda store in Franklin the self-proclaimed "Home of the Utah Lottery" said he doesn't expect his business to drop off much once Wyoming starts to offer its games, even if Evanston is a little closer than his store, which sits just across the Idaho line, north of Logan.
"We'll probably lose a few Wyoming customers. But a lot of Utahns who come up here to buy lottery tickets like to make a day of it," Spackman said. "They'll stop off at Gossner Farms in Logan to buy cheese and milk, and at Pepperidge Farms. Evanston, on the other hand, is just Evanston. There aren't a lot of stops between there and Salt Lake City."
A Wyoming lottery, though, would be another attraction for the Evanston area, which already is known in Utah as a place to buy fireworks and bargain-priced liquor and beer.
"Ideally, when Utahns come here to play the lottery, they'll spend a little more time here, maybe grabbing a bit to eat or doing some shopping," the chamber's Darby said.
Although Mead said he personally was "lukewarm" about a lottery, Wyoming's governor indicated he was persuaded to support the effort for several reasons.
Foremost were the prospect of Wyoming benefiting from potential revenue, and of it retaining the money that residents have been spending on lottery tickets in bordering states.
"For me, it was a question of how many people we have leaving the state, and in doing so taking Wyoming money and not only buying a lottery [ticket] but the Coca-Cola, and the hotdog, the movie maybe or the dinner," he said.
A lottery would bring an estimated $25 million a year to Wyoming. After expenses and prizes it would net the state an estimated $6 million annually.
Cathy Costanzo of Salt Lake City, the mother of a 27-year-old daughter with autism, said it is a shame Utah Legislature hasn't started thinking along those same lines how Utah money could go to benefit Utahns. She'd like to see the funds a Utah lottery could generate used to support programs for the disabled.
"We know the money is being sucked out of our state, but they don't seem to care," she said.
Costanzo said she only occasionally plays the lottery because it is hard for her to get away.
"I was joking with my son the other day, though, that I was feeling lucky lately and maybe we should buy a few tickets. Once Wyoming starts their lottery, it might be a little easier to play."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Catching the fever
What • Wyoming approves a state lottery
When • It could take a year or more to establish
Powerball? • A nine-member board will decide whether to include it
Use of proceeds • The first $6 million will go to local governments, then to a public school foundation fund.