Idaho border town sees influx of Utah lottery ticket buyers

On the last day to purchase a Powerball ticket for the $1.5 billion jackpot, Malad, an Idaho community parked on Interstate 15 near the Utah border, is packed with people.

Pretty much the only time residents interact with Idaho State Police is when they’re getting a speeding ticket, said Sherri Johnson, resident of nearby Samaria. But now she’s seeing troopers hand out parking citations.

“(People) were parked off the bypass,” she said. “They were parked in front of people’s driveways.”

Johnson said she joked to friends that there were so many people in town from Utah, where there isn’t a state lottery, that the sewers would overflow.

She wasn’t far off.

“(Oneida County is) bringing in porta-potties so people aren’t urinating in the streets,” ISP spokesperson Teresa Baker said.

The odds of winning the lottery are slim. The chances of winning the $1.5 billion jackpot on a $2 ticket are 1 in 292.2 million. But that’s not stopping Utah residents from crossing the border to buy a ticket.

That optimism is creating a boon to businesses for a town of about 2,000 residents, said Jerry Thomas, owner of Thomas Food Center.

“This is usually a slow time of year for Malad, so this has really given us a boost,” he said.

Since the lottery madness has intensified over the past week, the store has worked to accommodate ticket-buyers, with extra county-provided bathrooms and two separate lines: one for grocery customers, the other for lottery ticket-buyers.


“It’s just been really busy. We have a line of about 30 to 40 people outside,” he said. “So far the people from Utah have been really nice. (But it) keeps us hopping for sure.”

Alexis Bybee, business manager for Top Stop Convenience, said ticket sales have been constant.

“We are good. There are lines. They go through the store and wrap around the building,” she said. “The vast majority (of lottery ticket customers are) from Utah.”

Johnson laughed when she said she had to wake up at 5 a.m. to get her own ticket and wondered why Utah residents didn’t try a different strategy.

“I don’t think Utah people realize when they stand in line for two hours, they could have gone to Pocatello and back,” she said.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner