Randleman, N.C. — Most lottery players don't know the excitement of winning $1,000, but imagine hitting it big nearly two dozen times. WRAL News examined a list of more than 35,000 North Carolinians who have won at least $600 playing the lottery since 2009. Carlton Hill, of Randleman, is on the list 22 times.
“I’m excited every day I leave the house. It might be a million-dollar day. You just never know,” Hill said.
The North Carolina Education Lottery pays out about $2.4 million in prizes each day. Most winners get a few dollars, but Hill has won big multiple times.
“In eight days, I won $8,300. Everywhere I went, there was a winner, and it was just like a dream world and I didn’t want it to end,” he said.
Hill won $1,000 21 times in one year. He says he also won a new car, sold it and paid off his house 10 years ahead of time with the money he received.
After losing his wife, Patsy Hill, in December 2009 and suffering a stroke a few months later, Hill says he began playing the lottery as a way to have fun and be social.
“I learned life is short and life is a gift, and every day I like to meet people and enjoy life,” he said. “I’ve probably made 200 friends.”
The North Carolina lottery sold its first instant scratch-off ticket nearly six years ago, and it has grown every year since. The odds are with the lottery, as statistics show people have spent, on average, $1.82 to win $1.
Numbers also show that some parts of the state are in the lucky zone. WRAL News looked at payouts versus spending in all 100 counties. Two counties beat the odds to win $1.
In Buncombe County, in the western part of the state, lottery players spent 89 cents on every $1 payout. Cleveland County did even better, with 78 cents spent for every $1 won. Those numbers don’t account for people who buy winning tickets outside of their home county.
Using that same formula, people in 21 counties have had more bad days than good, spending more than $2 for every $1 win. Three counties – Watauga, Currituck and Gates – had the worst rate of return.
Hill says he doesn't keep track of how much he spends, but he does keep a bin full of worthless tickets for tax purposes.
“I’m not counting. I’m having fun, and it’s been a joy of my life,” he said. “I probably spent $45 to win $60, probably something in that nature. You keep looking for the big one. You never know when it might be. You have good days, and you have bad days.”
Van Denton, head of communications for the North Carolina lottery, says scratch-offs are all a game of chance.
“We don’t know where the winners are in the instant games. They’re distributed randomly across the state,” he said. “Luck can happen anywhere, and to run games that are fair and honest, it’s essential the games have a lot of integrity with them, and there are procedures to ensure they are random.”
The lottery is not for everyone, especially if finances are a problem, according to Hill, who advises that people “shouldn’t be spending money they can’t afford.” North Carolina lottery officials echo that sentiment.
“We don’t want people spending money that they need for other things on the lottery. We’d rather have those sales not happen,” Denton said. “The time that someone spends $1 on a lottery ticket and it doesn’t feel like fun, it’s probably the first signal that you’re playing too much.”
Part of the lottery's revenue supports a gambling hotline run by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. It's open to anyone who thinks they have a gambling problem. Last year, more than 7,000 people called the hotline, most of whom had problems with video poker. About 37 percent dealt with the lottery.
WRAL News spoke to one Wake County man who has won at least $1,000 on scratch offs 26 times. The man, who asked not to be identified, said his wife made him quit because he lost more money than he won.
Hill says he’s happy even if he loses.
“I have a lot of fun. It's a social thing,” he said. “I'm not that lucky, because there (are) people that have won millions, and I haven't won that much money, but I've had a ball doing it.”