Alabama Scene

The education lottery



At the Flora-Bama Lounge, straddled across the Alabama-Florida line on the Gulf of Mexico, patrons can walk about 20 steps from the Alabama border and purchase a Florida lottery ticket, helping pay for the education of Sunshine State children.

There are numerous other places along Alabama’s border, perhaps not as close as the lottery cash register at the Flora-Bama, where Alabamians spent millions of dollars purchasing lottery tickets and supporting the education of children, not only in Florida, but in Georgia and Tennessee as well.

More than a billion dollars in revenue from lottery proceeds in each of the past seven years has benefited Florida students and schools, representing approximately 5 percent of the state’s total education budget.

While the lottery was never intended to fully fund Florida’s education system, lottery contributions are far-reaching and crucial to ensuring the future success of students in Florida according to information provided by the state.

Here’s what is happening in Florida education according to a state brochure: “Prekindergarten

projects have directly affected
the youngest Florida citizens, while thousands

of K-12 students reap the benefits of lottery

dollars every school day. Thousands of
bright minds have followed the beacon
offered by Florida’s Bright Futures Sch-olarship

Program and other student financial aid
to pursue opportunities in higher education
at state universities and community colleges.”

These institutions of higher learning themselves have benefited from an additional $5.6 billion that helps keep them running and affordable to Florida students.

Additionally, lottery dollars in Florida have funded School Recognition and Merit Programs for improved schools, and have even helped build and renovate nearly 800 schools through the Classrooms First and Classrooms for Kids programs. In total, Florida’s schools and students have received more than $21 billion in lottery profits, including more than 1.3 million Bright Futures scholarships that are funded by the Florida lottery.

It’s happening all around us

Thirty non-Indian casinos are licensed to operate in Mississippi. They comprise a $2.5- billion-a-year industry that employs more than 25,000 workers, pays nearly $900 million in wages, and produces $300 million in annual tax revenue to the state, according to the American Gaming Association. Those tax dollars go for housing, education, transportation, health care services, youth counseling programs, and local public safety programs.

In Louisiana, casinos are a $3-billion-ayear industry and employ more than 20,000 people, paying over $700 million in wages and $600 million in tax revenue to the state.

In addition to the Florida lottery, the privately owned racetrack casinos produced $108 million in tax revenue to the state in 2009 and employed 2156 Floridians. Florida’s lottery brought $1.28 billion in tax revenue for schools in 2009 and has provided over $21 billion to education since its inception.

In Georgia, the state lottery paid nearly a billion in tax revenue for education last year and has provided over 11 billion for education since its creation.

In Tennessee, the newly-established lottery earned nearly $300 million for education last year and has paid $1.7 billion to scholarships and schools since it was approved a few years ago. A total of 43 states have some type of lottery.

Alabama did earn just over $3 million in revenue from the state’s two pari-mutuel racetracks at VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course in 2007, but Gov. Bob Riley has virtually closed off that tax revenue with his attempts to end the bingo games at VictoryLand, which will likely cause the entire facility to close.

The education lottery governor

Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, the Democratic nominee for governor, is proposing a vote to establish an education lottery for Alabama. He also wants to restore the jobs of those workers displaced by Riley’s crusade on the Black Belt electronic bingo establishments.

His GOP opponent, State Rep. Robert Bentley, says he doesn’t object to a referendum on gambling but is personally opposed to a lottery and other types of gambling. Many voters, including this writer, wish Rep. Bentley would tell us exactly what he wants to include in such a vote on gambling.

If people are inclined to purchase lottery tickets, which they can do legally in 43 states, I believe it is time we start letting them help our kids in Alabama instead of those outside our borders. Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The
Montgomery Independent. E-mail him