Where Does The Money Go When You Play The Colorado Lottery?

Written By Hill Kerby on 04/12/2023 - Last Updated on April 14, 2023
Colorado Lottery money funds outdoors projects and features

The Colorado Lottery generates hundreds of millions in annual proceeds each year. What happens to that money?

Since coming into existence in 1983, the Lottery has become one of the most impactful organizations in the state. Its lifetime proceeds reached $4 billion in January, with nearly all that money going toward conservation efforts in Colorado.

Doing things differently in the Centennial State

The Colorado Lottery celebrated its 40th anniversary three months ago. It has received a Level 4 Responsible Gaming Certification, the highest level of certification.

Lotteries are run by keeping a significant portion of all tickets purchased, typically around 30-50%, to go toward public matters. (Colorado returns 63 cents of every dollar to players.) The rest goes to jackpots, allowing players to win life-changing money while also contributing to a greater cause.

Colorado is the only state in which proceeds go toward supporting the outdoors. In other states, lottery funds support education, tourism, economic development, construction, and also parks and recreation. 

It is entirely self-funded, requiring no taxpayer dollars to operate.

Colorado Lottery beneficiaries:

  • Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)
  • Conservation Trust Fund (CTF)
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)
  • Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) Fund
  • Outdoor Equity Fund

The ‘voice of the people’

Colorado state law allows the lottery to use proceeds on various programs related to the state’s vast and diverse outdoors. This law was enacted in 1992 when voters amended the state constitution to set up GOCO, the first (and still greatest) beneficiary of lottery funds.

In an interview with CBS News, Colorado Lottery President Tom Seaver called the matter “a voice of the people situation,” organically taking shape based on where voters decided to allocate the money.

“It’s a huge industry, but it’s also a part of our lifestyle.”

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)

GOCO receives 50% of all proceeds from the Colorado Lottery up to a fixed cap based on the previous year’s ticket sales. Over the past 30-plus years, it has reinvested more than $1.4 billion in proceeds to every county in Colorado.

With these investments, GOCO has funded over 5,000 projects and also conserved more than 1.25 million acres of land across the state. It has also awarded over 400 grants to date for conservation, recreation and outdoor stewardship projects related to enhancing and preserving many of the state’s best outdoor features:

  • Parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Trails
  • Wildlife
  • Rivers
  • Fairgrounds facilities and rodeo pavilions

In fiscal year 2022, the Lottery provided GOCO with $73.1 million for outdoor projects. GOCO splits the state into seven regions, each with numerous “featured projects” in the works or recently completed.

Less than three months remain in FY 2023, and multiple 10-figure jackpots last year (Mega Millions and Powerball) figure to create new highs to top 2022’s landmark year. Of course, record sales mean increased funding for GOCO.

Conservation Trust Fund (CTF); Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW)

The CTF receives the second-most funding from the Lottery at 40%.

The state started the CTF when founding the Lottery to reinvest proceeds into local governments. Money goes to parks and recreation services, specifically,

  • Acquiring, developing and maintaining new conservation sites
  • Capital improvements of sites
  • Site maintenance for recreational purposes

In FY 2022, the Lottery gave CTF $72.1 million, which it distributes on a per-capita basis to over 470 local entities in quarterly installments.

The remaining 10% goes to CPW, which manages the 42 state parks system and also 307 wildlife areas of Colorado. In FY 2022, CPW received $18 million from the Lottery.

GOCO also contributes half of its funds to CPW. The CPW investment proposal for FY 2023 requested $17.4 million for outdoor recreation and nearly $12 million for wildlife management. 

School (Best); Outdoor Equity Fund

Once GOCO reaches its cap, the remaining proceeds go toward four additional programs: BEST, two CPW cash funds and the Outdoor Equity Fund.

BEST was established in 2008 and provides funding for building and improving schools and school districts throughout Colorado. It received $9.3 million from the Lottery in FY 2022, in addition to more from the State Land Board, marijuana excise tax and local matching dollars.

CPW’s two additional cash funds, the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Fund and the Wildlife Cash Fund, each received $3.1 million, separate from CPW’s 10% share.

The Outdoor Equity Fund began in 2021 as a grant program from GOCO. CPW manages the fund, which received $1.5 million from GOCO in FY 2022 to increase outdoor access, education, communication and also community support for minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged Coloradans.

Around 3,000 Colorado retailers earn commissions from Lottery

By nature, Coloradans are outdoors people and take pride in our state’s natural beauty. Having Lottery funding go toward projects that make the outdoors more accessible allows players to feel good about where their money goes, Seaver said.

“Even if they don’t win the jackpot, there’s probably a park, playground or something in their neighborhood that they helped to pay for.”

Local businesses benefit from the lottery, too. Around 3,000 retailers statewide earn commissions from the tickets they sell.

Lastly, the Lottery organizes events like the annual “Runyon to the Res,” which cleans up a stretch of trail along the Arkansas River.  Last year’s event took place in October for Colorado Lottery Conservation Month, with more than 125 volunteers participating.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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