The Arkansas Lottery is “a success story” compared to other state lotteries, but it’s reducing its college scholarship budget for the year.
That’s what lottery officials said in a meeting yesterday. The Arkansas Lottery is reducing scholarship projections for 2014 by roughly $6.8 million. This tracks with what we wrote last week about how the Arkansas Lottery is on target to come in nearly $8 million under budget on scholarships this year.
If you read the news coverage from yesterday’s meeting, it seems as if lottery officials are ready to blame the budget shortfall on everything and everybody except themselves. The lottery is allegedly struggling because they can’t accept credit or debit cards; because they can’t sell lottery tickets online; because they can’t do monitor games; because scratch-off ticket sales are down; and because they took a loss on a new raffle game.
But lottery officials say Arkansas’ lottery is “a success story” compared to other state lotteries, because we are sixteenth out of forty-five states in lottery ticket sales, per-capita.
Something about those statements just doesn’t add up.
Other state lotteries take in fewer dollars than Arkansas’, but pay out more than we do for scholarships. That should tell us our budget problems have less to do with lottery revenue and more to do with lottery management.
Last we checked, the Arkansas Lottery’s administrative costs were some of the highest in the nation. College scholarships–the very purpose for which the Arkansas Lottery was created–are the last bill the Lottery pays and the first thing they cut when sales start to dip. This has been the case since the Arkansas Lottery was established; lottery officials have simply been able to avoid dealing with it by keeping the lottery artificially propped up with new games rolled out each month.
Lottery Director Bishop Woosley assured lottery commissioners, yesterday, “a lot of people aren’t playing now that would play if we [could accept] debit cards.” As far as I can tell, however, the Arkansas Lottery has not commissioned a single survey or study to assess whether or not that is true. They have not diligently polled Arkansans to determine what motivates them to buy lottery tickets. This just seems to be some feeling on the part of the Arkansas Lottery’s management. Is that any way to run a state agency?
The problem at the Arkansas Lottery is more than sales. It’s priorities and management. That was true when the Lottery started, and it seems to be just as true today.