I bear no malice toward the young mother of four who recently became the North Carolina Education Lottery’s most celebrated poster lady. To be sure, the $88 million she took home from the purported half a billion dollar jackpot will change life for her and her children immensely, we hope, for the better.
But what about the other 30 million single mothers or dads who forfeited their milk money for this fleeting chance at a lifetime bonanza? And, who at the end of the day had neither the bonanza nor milk for their children.
Surveys by the N.C. Policy Watch reveal that per capita lottery sales in North Carolina are highest in neighborhoods with low incomes and high unemployment. That raises the question of where the money comes from to buy those lottery tickets. This is a good place to start looking for clarity about the North Carolina lottery.
Driving through eastern North Carolina recently, I saw a sign just off I-40 at the small town of Newton Grove that read “EBT accepted: Play Lotto.” You figure. This would seem to justify a serious effort to determine just how much of the money to buy North Carolina lottery tickets comes from public assistance funds.
Those pushing the lottery said it would bring a billion dollars of new money each year for education. After nearly a decade, lottery profits for public schools are just half what was promised.
And, that is not new money. Opponents promised that lottery funds would be new money not “supplanted” by existing appropriations for public schools. That promise has not been kept. Per pupil spending for public schools in North Carolina was less in 2013 than five years previously. So where did the new money go? Another good place to seek clarity.
Those who vehemently opposed the lottery before it was a reality, now embrace it. They passed a law telling the folks who run the lottery not to design their multi-million dollar advertising program so as to “entice” people to play. But what is the purpose of advertising if not to entice folks?
You might think that since it is called the “education lottery,” most of the revenue would actually go to our public schools. That is not so and never was intended to happen. Three-fifths goes for prizes to induce the players to play even more. Only 28 percent goes to education, 7 percent for the merchants who sell the tickets and 4 percent for administration.
So much for the hoopla over the big prizes. Despite media announcements that one-third of the $564 million jackpot was $188 million, since she chose to take an immediate lump sum payout, that $188 million suddenly became $127 million. But that was before the tax man got his share, another $39 million. The big winner and only consistent beneficiary of state lotteries is the U.S. Treasury Department, taking about 30 percent of the jackpots, all up front.
If anybody other than the government attempted to run a $2 billion enterprise based on so much misrepresentation, or lack of clarity as some say, he would soon be in jail.
Charles Heatherly of Clayton served as Deputy State Treasurer to the late Harlan Boyles. He was one of the named plaintiffs who sued the state of North Carolina to stop the lottery because it wasn’t voted on different days as required by the state Constitution for all finance bills.