State losing out on lottery proceeds
by Jack McNeely
Dec 22, 2013 | 477 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My opinion has been well documented when it comes to state lottery programs. Only a handful of states currently have no lottery system, and Alabama is among them.

This week’s record Mega Million jackpot reached nearly $650 million when the last purchased ticket was counted by midday Wednesday.

Despite the 1-in-259-million odds of cashing in on the big prize, there were two winning tickets Tuesday night — one at a newsstand in the affluent Buckhead area of Atlanta and another at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif.

The winning numbers were 8, 14, 17, 20 and 39, with the Mega Ball number 7.

Christmas came early for the two winning ticket holders. But it also came early for the 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which participate in the Mega Ball.

Nearly $1 billion in tickets had been sold since the last time someone won the Mega Millions jackpot back on Oct. 4. Twenty-two draws came and went without a winner.

About 30 percent of each dollar spent on a Mega Millions ticket goes directly back to state-funded programs, and in many states the big winner is education.

I can think of several Alabama institutions of higher education that could use an injection of lottery funds, one specifically here in Walker County.

Perhaps in 2014 Alabama voters will have a chance to vote for a state lottery system. The Democratic leader in the Alabama House is calling for the Legislature to use its election-year session to approve a state lottery.

Rep. Craig Ford of Gadsden said a state lottery could produce $250 million annually for education purposes and keep money at home that is now going to lotteries in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

The bill he plans to introduce in the session that starts Jan. 14 would set aside $50 million of the proceeds to hire security officers for schools. The remainder would be used for college or vocational school scholarships for students who make the “A-B” honor roll.

However, as one local Republican state lawmaker sees it, don’t place any bets on the measure ever reaching the public for a vote in the Nov. 4 General Election. “Slim to none” are the chances he placed on a successful state lottery bid in 2014.

It’s been nearly 15 years since Alabama voters had a say on a state lottery system. Only 54 percent of the voters disapproved. Then there was Ron Sparks’ campaign for governor in 2010. He ran solely on a state lottery, and was soundly defeated.

But a lot has changed in the past four years. The economy has tanked. School systems are struggling. School safety is paramount. And just last year the state dipped into its “rainy day fund” to the tune of $437.4 million over three years.

I encourage state lawmakers to give a state lottery bill the merit it deserves and let the voters decide in November.

Jack McNeely is publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be contacted by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at jack.mcneely@mountaineagle.com.