The lottery is an old hot topic of controversy with a new surge of debate. With the addition of North Carolina’s lottery and the impending implementation of video lotteries, supporters and critics are, once again, suiting up for battle over our nations lotteries and laws.
But outside of the active contributors to this conflict, what are the views of our nation regarding the lottery? For the most part, pretty positive. How can you not be, when the lottery takes all that green and turns into read…as in books and other supplies for education. After all, that is the most popular pitch for buying a lottery ticket and supporting the lottery’s establishment in a state. In fact, according to The New York Times, most people believe the majority of lottery dollars go to education and that most of the cost of education is covered by lottery dollars. With state lottery slogans like “Big Fun, Bright Futures” and “Raising billions to educate millions,” who’s to blame for these beliefs. Below is a video of one such advertisement.
Linked here is The New York Times article that addresses the misconception that the lottery heavily profits the education system: For Schools, Lottery Payoffs Fall Short of Promises. (Most of the facts and sources in this post are from this article, however here is another “Lottery Fact Sheet.”)
The original form of the lottery started in the 1700′s and was used to fund different social programs, bridges, roads, and the Continental Army. Now a days, there are thousands of different lottery games you can play with the cost of a ticket going as high as $50 dollars. You can find websites with lottery predictions or you can even be a professional lottery player.
Forty two states, plus the district, have lotteries. Twenty three of these states have dedicated funds to education. However, all lottery sourced money for education only amounts to “between one and five percent of the total revenue for K-12 education.”
Last year the lottery earned 56 billion and returned 17 billion to the state government. 460 million goes towards advertising which is one of the largest ad budgets of any marketer. Lottery officials say that since the induction of the first modern lottery, 234 billion dollars have gone toward state coffers. The majority of sales has to go back into the lottery just to sustain the games.
Here is a map showing the states who contribute at least 30% of their profits to education.
One must note that some states put their lottery dollars directly into the general pot, and can’t report exactly how many lottery dollars go directly to education.
A bad habit that is developing in certain states is the substitution of general funds for education with lottery dollars. So instead of additional money going towards education when the lottery does well, the education budget gains nothing, but the states general funds give less to meet the same mark. In fact, in Nebraska, they actually transferred lottery dollars out of education and into the general funds to make up for a deficit.
Lottery officials say that they are catching most of the flack for decisions that have nothing to do with the lottery, but are, instead, in the hands of the state legislature who decide what to do with the lottery dollars they receive. “Our job is to raise money for the things the legislators want,” said Clint Harris, director of the Minnesota lottery. “We don’t have any control over what happens to the money.”
The New York lottery director, Gardner Gurney, says, in defense of his percentage statistics, “Too much of the focus is on percentages. My focus is on dollars. You can’t spend percentages.” In 2000, New York State kept 38 percent of its lottery revenue for education. That share has dropped to 32 percent, but the dollar amount rose from $1.3 billion in 2000 to $2.2 billion last year, as reported by the NY Times.
Time and again the lottery argument comes back to money for education. According the lottery promoters, people are spending their money on tickets, it’s just a matter of whose state they are going to spend their money in. Then to pull a few heart strings, they mention all the kids in their home state who are watching those dollars go to other kids’ educations. However, taking a closer look at the facts makes it look like the only thing profiting from the lottery is the lottery. After all, we all know that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning twice than winning the lottery. Or do we? I guess the people standing in line for lottery tickets aren’t all decked out in rubber.
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