The jackpot for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing is in world-record territory, and spending for Powerball tickets is a big pastime — for Canadians dropping in to see if they can become billionaires.
“It’s a crazy scene,” says Dean Priestman, who manages the Point Roberts International Market Place, the only full-service supermarket in this tiny Whatcom County town.
He’s talking about the line for Powerball tickets. The Market Place is one of just two places to get them in Point Roberts. Priestman says there’s an hourlong line all day: “Monday was crazy and today’s been crazier … We had a person yesterday who spent $2,000.”
On paper, it might look like Point Roberts, with just 1,300 residents, has gone Powerball mad. More than $186,000 has been spent on tickets here since Nov. 4, the last time a jackpot winner emerged. In fact, analysis of data from Washington’s Lottery and the U.S. Census Bureau show Point Roberts’ ZIP code has the highest average household Powerball spending of any in the state — around $285 per household (I filtered out ZIP codes with fewer than 500 households).
But the answer is simple: Canadians.
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Point Roberts is a geographical fluke, physically connected to the Canadian mainland, not to the U.S. It lies at the southernmost tip of British Columbia’s Tsawwassen Peninsula. It’s only in the U.S. because it lies below the 49th parallel, the border between the two countries.
With Wednesday’s Powerball drawing offering an estimated $1.5?billion jackpot, a world record, our northern neighbors are coming down in droves to buy tickets. “It’s taking an hour to an hour and a half to get across the border just to get in here,” Priestman says. Then there’s the wait at the Market Place.
“It’s easy to tell they’re Canadians because a lot of them are not familiar with the game, so they’re asking a lot of questions, and that slows up the process a little bit. All they know is they’re buying a chance for over a billion dollars.”
Priestman says he has employees now who do nothing but Powerball. “I have one person just standing there selling the tickets, and then they hand them to another person at a designated cash register who rings them up. We also have a machine that sells them, and I have one person who stands there and helps customers.”
In terms of raw sales numbers — a whopping $457,000 — the top ZIP code in the state is 98230, in the more highly trafficked border town of Blaine.
Meanwhile, in King and Snohomish counties, $16?million has been spent on tickets for the current Powerball — not quite half of the $37.5 million total spent in the entire state.
The highest average Powerball spending by household is in Renton’s 98057, about $50 per household. Mapped out, the data reveal that South King County households generally spend more on Powerball than the rest of our area. That’s consistent with data that show poorer people — South King County ranks low in the region for median income — are more likely to buy lottery tickets. Conversely, North Seattle has some of the lowest household spending on Powerball — like 98177, where households spent just over $4, on average.
One caveat with this data: The ZIP codes reflect the place of purchase, not the home address of the Powerball player. So when I calculated household spending, it skewed the data for places where many people purchase tickets but don’t live in the area — like downtown Seattle, for example.
Or like Point Roberts.