Increasing scholarships for New Mexico students. The new bike path is located on the western slope of Colorado.…
Increasing scholarships for New Mexico students. The new bike path is located on the western slope of Colorado. More homeless shelters in Arizona.
When lottery sales go up, it’s not just those holding the golden ticket who win. Across the U.S., state lottery systems use these revenues to improve education, tourism, transportation, and more. Now that the Mega Millions lottery jackpot has grown to more than $1 billion, state officials are hoping that increased national interest in the top prize will lead to more funding for their own causes.
However, critics of these lottery-funded programs point out that low-income players foot the bill for benefits they won’t receive proportionately.
In South Carolina, lottery officials said 43 cents of every dollar spent goes into the state’s education lottery account. The General Assembly then uses this money primarily to fund scholarships. But the vast majority of South Carolina’s revenue goes to merit-based scholarships, not need-based scholarships.
In New Mexico, some lawmakers and advocacy groups have criticized the lottery as a regressive source of revenue.
“The people who play it are disproportionately low-income,” said Fred Nathan of the nonpartisan political group Think New Mexico. He successfully lobbied for a minimum 30 percent state contribution of lottery revenue to college scholarships, but said there remain concerns about the share of lottery scholarships going to children from affluent and middle-income families.
Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as Washington, DC and the US Virgin Islands. No one has matched the six game mark since April. The next drawing will take place at 11:00 PM ET in Atlanta, Georgia.
On Friday, the historic jackpot drew 36-year-old Brian Byrd to buy a ticket at a gas station in Columbia, South Carolina. Byrd said he usually only plays when the pot gets that big.
His first move when he takes home the prize?
“I probably give two weeks’ notice,” Byrd said. “I hope I’m a winner.”
The game is coordinated by the state lotteries, which generate revenue not only from Mega Millions, but also from scratch tickets, Powerball and other authorized games. The revenue is then used to pay prizes, retailers, government funds and overheads.
The Michigan Lottery is on track to make its third consecutive annual contribution of $1 billion to the state’s School Aid Fund, according to player relations manager Jacob Harris, who said jackpots like this one help. In Michigan, Harris said 28 cents of every dollar raised goes to the fund.
In Georgia, lottery officials say the state has raised nearly $22 million for college scholarships and educational preparation programs since the jackpot began growing in April.
According to spokesman Chuck Bauman, Oregon recently posted some of the biggest daily sales in the Mega Millions drawing. The $1.4 million and $1.2 million grossed on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, were good for the eighth and 10th highest single-day sales in the state.
“When it’s Powerball or Mega Millions, when the jackpots get big and people play, that’s good for the state of Oregon and the people who get the lottery dollars,” Bauman said. Over the years, voters have approved measures to direct lottery funds to education, parks and veterans service funds.
During a regular Tuesday drawing in Texas, Mega Millions ticket sales across the state will total about $1 million. They sold $20 million last Tuesday, according to Gary Griff, executive director of the Texas Lottery Commission.
He expects record sales to continue. A typical Friday brings in about $5 million in sales. He expects to receive $80 million this Friday.
“As we come to the end of our fiscal year, we’ve held up against last year’s record sales pace,” Griff said of the state’s lottery revenue. That added $1.97 billion to the Public School Fund and $23.4 million to aid veterans. “It will push us away from it.”
Shopping in New York is growing rapidly. Mega Millions sales totaled more than $26 million for the week ending July 23, according to a report from the New York State Gaming Commission. That’s more than double the $12 million raised in the previous week.
In Ohio, where lottery funding goes to education, lottery sales remain largely flat, but jackpot sales often fluctuate more than other lotteries, said Danielle Fritzi-Bubb, director of communications for the Ohio Lottery. The Mega Millions jackpot is hard to predict — and this $1 billion-plus jackpot has led to a jump in sales that is hard to predict in advance.
“When we get to that number, sales really, really, really go up,” Frizzy-Bab said. “And it’s just not something you can plan for. But we are happy when it happens.”
California has collected more than $224 million in Mega Millions sales as of Thursday afternoon. According to Carolyn Becker, a spokeswoman for the California State Lottery, the estimated cost of education was $89.6 million.
In fiscal year 2021, California received about $1.8 billion in all games for public education — though Becker called the funds “additional” given the number of school systems in the nation’s most populous state.
“Even though it pales in comparison to the school budget, we’re hearing from school teachers, administrators, etc. that every dollar helps,” Becker said, adding that the funds went toward teacher salaries, comp’ orchestra and gym equipment and instruments.
In Tennessee, recent Mega Millions ticket sales generated more than $263 million that will be set aside for scholarships, grants and after-school programs.
The Tennessee Education Lottery called the ever-increasing winnings a “welcome development” as they saw more new players buying tickets in hopes of winning.
Still, the hope comes at a time when Americans are experiencing the highest inflation in decades, leaving many with fewer dollars to throw at entertainment. Some states are already experiencing a drop in their lottery sales.
In Iowa, Lottery CEO Matt Strawn told board members in late June that higher gasoline and grocery costs were likely to blame for the drop in sales from zero, noting that inflation also caused an 82 percent increase in the fuel budget for their employees. A Lottery spokesman said they believe the increase in Mega Millions sales will offset the decline in sales.
And even in what is projected to be a year of record revenue in Texas, the proceeds from the lottery, which helps fund education and aid for veterans, are somewhat dampened by weaker purchasing power.
“The money we’re giving (the Texas Education Agency), they’re going to purchase something less than what was purchased a year ago,” said Griff, of Texas.
Kruesi reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Pollard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Stern reported from Reno, Nevada. Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
James Pollard and Gabe Stern are members of the Associated Press/Reporting staff for the US Government News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.
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