June 5, 2013 | Posted in Arkansas Lottery | By

Earlier today Family Council staff member Ken Yang attended a meeting between lottery officials and lawmakers who are on the Lottery Oversight Committee. Below are highlights from the meeting.

  • With two months remaining in the lottery’s fiscal year, the lottery is $5.9 million behind in projected revenue. In other words, sales are down.
  • 2014 net proceeds (the money that goes for scholarships) are projected at $89.5 million–millions of dollars lower than previous years.
  • The lottery has authorized “higher staff compensation” (i.e. “raises”) in its budget for fiscal year 2014.
  • MegaMillions, one of two multi-state lotteries Arkansas participates in, is going to be overhauled. In the future players can expect even worse odds than ever before on the top prizes. Too many people are winning, and the company responsible for the game thinks making it harder to win the big jackpot will cause more people to buy tickets.

Lottery officials had some interesting excuses for lagging ticket sales:

  • There was a drought last summer
  • Gas prices have made it more difficult for people to afford lottery tickets
  • The “honey moon” is over, after 2 years and 4 months
  • They simply mis-projected revenue,
  • Players winning large prizes cost money

During Director Woosley’s testimony on the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, scholarships were mentioned only once; students were not mentioned at all.

Paying People to Get Their Prize

Besides lagging sales, the lottery may also be nickel-and-diming itself to death. Players who win $1 million or more must drive to Little Rock to claim their winnings. The lottery actually budgets money to reimburse ¬†these big winners for their travel expenses.¬†As one person put it, shouldn’t that be the other way around?

They don’t budget much money for that purpose, but one has to wonder: If they’re wasting money paying million-dollar lottery winners to come pick up their check, what else are they wasting money on?

Video Lottery Terminals

At one point Rep. Perry suggested to Director Woosley that the lottery might consider boosting sales by doing something a few other states have done: Installing video lottery terminals in gas pumps. The idea is people will buy lottery tickets while filling their vehicles.

Besides video lotteries being, perhaps, the most addictive form of lottery gambling there is, I’m sure the people of Arkansas want to wait in line at the pump while someone plays the lottery over and over again.

The Most Telling Part

Perhaps the most telling part of the meeting was this: No one talked about how we get students more scholarship money.

The Arkansas Lottery is supposed to be about scholarships. Supposedly $100 million in scholarship money would be “generated” by the lottery every year; that’s what proponents promised back in 2008. That has not happened, however. Scholarship funds have continued to fall; lawmakers have been forced twice to reduce or redistribute scholarships. And yet, as far as the tone of the meeting was concerned, nothing is wrong with scholarships.

We’ve said all along that the lottery is not about scholarships and never has been. The absence of a serious discussion about how to actually generate scholarship money during today’s meeting is just another indicator of that.

Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.