How much of your lottery ticket is helping education?

May 18, 2011 2:10:16 AM PDT
With Texas schools facing billions of dollars in cuts, everyone is looking for more money. And we get asked all the time, what about the lottery? Isn't the lottery supposed to support Texas schools?

Texas law says lottery proceeds are supposed to go toward education. Since 1998, the lottery's given about a billion dollars to Texas schools every year. It's a lot of money, but it hasn't gone up a dime even when lottery sales have doubled.

Linda Neighbors is pretty serious about her scratch offs. She plays every other day and spends about $50 or $60 a week, and every once in a while she hits.

"Fifty-dollars so far," Neighbors said.

Like a lot of Texans, Neighbors believes her lotto spending is helping Texas schools. And this Katy great-grandmother has a lot of reasons to help Texas schools.

The Texas lottery has helped Texas classrooms; it's given $13 billion to education since 1997 -- about a billion dollars a year.

But today, Texans are buying twice as many lottery tickets as they did that first year, and the lottery isn't given a dime more.

"Pooey, pooey, pooey," Neighbors said.

Dawn Nettles, a self-appointed Texas lottery watchdog, puts it a different way.

"They need to pay what they have in their budget to pay," Nettles said.

Nettles runs lottoreport.com, where she's traced every winner, every jackpot and every decrease in the percentage of lottery money that ends up in Texas classrooms.

She says the lottery is just giving away too much money -- more money than it can afford and that hurts your kids.

"They claim they're taking money from their operating account to fund these over-payments, but I suspect it's really coming from the schools," Nettles said.

The first thing the lottery pays is prizes, and 62 percent of lottery money pays off winners. Then the lottery pays itself to run the games.. That's 10 percent of the money. And whatever's left in the bucket goes to the education fund.

Today it's just 27 percent of lottery budget, but when it started, it was 10 percent higher.

"Isn't there some argument that when you offer bigger prizes, players win but schools lose?" we said to Bobby Heith with the Texas Lottery Commission.

"Well, you could look at it that way," he replied.

But as you can imagine the Texas Lottery Commission doesn't see it that way.

"Why do you have to offer so much money?" we asked Heith.

"To get players to buy tickets," he said.

The lottery says research and history show when prize percentages go down, sales suffer and so does the lottery bottom line. Winners want big prizes.

The last time lawmakers forced the lottery to cut prizes was 14 years ago.

With no other legal gambling option in Texas, Neighbors says she might be willing to help classrooms a little more. She'd even play if the prizes weren't as big.

"Probably, I am an inveterate gambler," she said.

We checked. If the lottery had kept its 37 percent donation to schools, it would have given Texas schools $3.4 billion more since 1998. It's money that now has gone to lottery winners.


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