- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - While it pales in comparison with the recent billion-dollar Powerball jackpot, the $1 million in state lottery proceeds going to Wyoming cities, towns and counties this month is just as welcome by mayors, council members and commissioners around the state who are wrestling with budget shortfalls.

“Any bit of distribution and revenues is extremely helpful,” Shelley Simonton, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said Tuesday.

WyoLotto officials on Tuesday presented state Treasurer Mark Gordon with a check for more than $1 million, which Gordon’s office will distribute to 23 counties and 99 communities across the state.

It is the first distribution of Wyoming Lottery Corp. profits since the first lottery tickets were sold in the state in August 2014.

“It’s not a tremendous amount of money, but every little bit counts,” Gordon said. “A million here and a million there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money. And particularly in a year when we’ve heard so much bad news, this is a really bright spot.”

The money comes as a time when many local governments in Wyoming are seeing declines in sales tax revenue and state aid because of the financially struggling minerals-extraction industry. “We’re seeing some municipalities that are seeing sales tax receipts down anywhere between 10 percent to 15 percent,” Simonton said.

Even some who opposed the lottery are now welcoming the money. “It’s great to see them step up and do what they said they would do and help provide some funds for cities, towns and counties,” said Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. Loucks voted against the lottery bill in the 2013 legislative session and was critical of the lottery last year for not sharing its profits soon enough.

Because the Legislature did not appropriate any money to start the lottery, the Wyoming Lottery board of directors had to take out about $2.8 million in loans. The board decided to pay off the loans first before distributing any money to local governments.

WyoLotto CEO Jon Clontz said the lottery was able to pay off the startup loans earlier than anticipated, leading to an earlier disbursement of profits to cities, towns and counties. “I think in 2 1/2 years to have paid the debt, have no arrears … and then to start the transfer, I think we’ve a pretty good job,” Clontz said.

Under state law, the first $6 million in net lottery profits will go to local governments, and anything above that goes to a state school fund.

Lottery board Chairman Mark Macy said the lottery likely won’t be able to remit more than $3 million a year because state law prohibits lucrative instant win games like scratch tickets.

“If we had scratch-off tickets we could double our revenue,” Macy said. “But that’s a legislative function.”

WyoLotto is adding another draw game later this year and is considering a raffle-type game next year, Clontz said.

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