The hope keeps him playing.

In this game, Rod Gasswint is both metaphorically and literally looking for a rainbow.

The first $5 Pot O' Gold scratch-off was a dud. Behind the wheel of his idling car in the parking lot of an area Rutter's Farm Store, tacky silver crumbs collected in his lap as he put a coin to work on the second ticket.

In a moment, the hope of it was also gone. No rainbow symbol, no little leprechaun or pot of gold.

"Not today," the 71-year-old East Manchester Township man said, the disappointment in his voice combining with a tone that suggested he was most certain he'd be lucky on a future day.

The odds aren't in his favor, of course. They aren't in anybody's.

In this particular game, Gasswint had a one in 360,000 chance for a $50,000 prize and one in 8.57 chance

that he'd win back the $5 he spent on each ticket.

But he and plenty of other Yorkers don't let the losses keep them away from the Pennsylvania Lottery line.

Lucky in York? For the last fiscal year and at least the last five preceding years, York had more sales and more prizes than surrounding counties -- Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster.

Yorkers bought $108.4 million in tickets and won $63.4 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year alone, according to data provided by the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Some Yorkers spend more than others, and some people never play.

But for each person of lottery-playing age -- 18 and over -- Yorkers spent $325, or about $25 per month, on all lottery games, according to an analysis The York Dispatch completed using U.S. Census and Pennsylvania Lottery data.

Yorkers won only $190 per person of lottery-playing age, which comes to a net loss of about $135 per person of lottery-playing age in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Sherry Wang, right, enters lottery numbers for Nellie  Boat  Woodard of York City on Sunday at Gloria s Grocery and Lottery.
Sherry Wang, right, enters lottery numbers for Nellie Boat Woodard of York City on Sunday at Gloria s Grocery and Lottery. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

And yet York is comparatively lucky, given the analysis of the numbers. Though it ranked 40th in the state for the amount of money spent on lottery per person, it only ranked 25th for losses.

Most counties lost more money than York, with Cambria County players topping the list last year with a per-person-of-playing-age loss of $220.

"The winner statistics seem to show that York County lottery players certainly should feel lucky," said Pennsylvania Lottery spokesman Gary Miller.

He said he's glad so many Yorkers enjoy playing the lottery, emphasizing the system's funding of programs benefiting older Pennsylvanians.

But York wasn't, in a game where wins are measured by the least amount lost, the biggest winner locally.

Adams County won less money than York, but it ranked only ninth for its loss of $93 per person of playing age. Lancaster County also lost less than York, ranking 15th for a loss of $105 per person last year.

Big dreams: York's per-person loss of $135 wasn't a surprise to players such as Gasswint, who's retired from the printing industry and now unloads trucks at Kmart; after all, the lottery system must raise money for programs for senior citizens.

Gasswint said he alone spends at least $365 per year on tickets, $1 per day for the nightly drawing and additional money for scratch-offs "when the mood strikes."

And while state officials debate potential privatization of the lottery, players said management of the system isn't likely to sway their habits.

Winning lottery tickets are displayed at Gloria s Grocery and Lottery in York City. York County has the highest lottery sales and winnings among its
Winning lottery tickets are displayed at Gloria s Grocery and Lottery in York City. York County has the highest lottery sales and winnings among its neighbors in southcentral Pennsylvania. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

They're thinking about hitting it big, just like 66-year-old York Township resident Dennis Wennerstrom, who buys a Powerball ticket each week.

The lottery represents dreams of being debt-free and comfortable, able to focus energy on projects about which they feel passionate instead of being mired in the daily grind.

"It's just a long-shot, but you give it a try," Wennerstrom said during a recent Sheetz lunch break from his job as a field technician for a security company.

He dreams about being able to open a charity to help homeless people, paying off his house and cars and his daughter's student loan.

Co-worker Wes Peck, a 32-year-old from Hellam Township, said it would be nice not to worry about how to pay for his 3-year-old son's future college education.

And he'd like a new truck, he said, even though his 1999 Dodge hasn't given him too much trouble.

Property taxes: Gasswint said his biggest win was $1,000 about 10 years ago in a lottery raffle, and he has since reinvested his $5 and $10 wins from scratch-offs.

His odds have been much better with the property tax rebate check -- for between $250 and $300 -- that he receives every year through a lottery-funded program.

For their wins and losses, Yorkers got $27.1 million in property tax breaks and other lottery-funded programs for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

That compares to $6.3 million in Adams, $13.5 million in Cumberland, $16.4 million in Dauphin and $31.2 million in Lancaster, according to Miller.

The county's biggest recent lottery win was a $2.2 million Match 6 jackpot in January. It went to a Yorker named Roxana Fidler, who declined to speak with the media about her win.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.