State lottery fails Jefferson County

State lottery fails Jefferson County

A woman stood in line at a Pine Bluff convenience store recently and spent $100 purchasing Arkansas Scholarship Lottery tickets, winning $22 on her investment. She then bought $20 in lottery tickets, winning $4. She spent the $6 in winnings on fuel for her 10-year-old Chevrolet at the store’s gas pump. An Arkansas New Bureau analysis of the lottery paints a picture of Jefferson County residents not receiving a fair educational return on investments in lottery tickets. The counties where the most lottery tickets are sold are usually the same counties where the most lottery-funded scholarships are awarded. Jefferson County is the big exception. The county has ranked second in lottery tickets sold since the lottery was launched in September 2009. We didn’t make the top 10 in scholarships awarded in any year since. Jefferson County ranked 12th in the state in scholarships awarded for the current semester, according to the state Department of Higher Education. For fiscal year 2011 that ended June 30, lottery ticket sales in Jefferson County totaled $21.4 million. The Department of Higher Education reported that 777 students in that county were awarded Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships for the current semester. In Benton County, which ranked 12th in lottery sales at $11.4 million, 1,937 students have received lottery-funded scholarships. Benton is third on the list of scholarships awarded. Jefferson County has an average per capita income of $18,735 and a median household income of $34,389, according to the Census. Benton County’s per capita income is $24,647 and its median household income is $49,226. The counties where the most lottery tickets were sold in the 2010-11 fiscal year were, in descending order: Pulaski, Jefferson, Washington, Saline, Faulkner, Craighead, Lonoke, White, Garland and Sebastian. The counties where the most lottery-funded scholarships were awarded for the fall 2011 semester were, in descending order: Pulaski, Washington, Benton, Faulkner, Sebastian, Saline, Craighead, Garland, White and Lonoke. For students who entered the program this year, the scholarships are $4,500 annually to attend a four-year school and $2,250 per year to attend a two-year school. Students who entered the program last year, the first year that lottery-funded scholarships were awarded, continue to receive $5,000 at four-year schools and $2,500 at two-year schools. Lottery officials maintain the top 10 lists of where lottery tickets are sold and scholarships awarded should dispel critics’ argument that the lottery redistributes wealth from low-income areas where the lottery is heavily promoted and played to more affluent areas where fewer people buy tickets. A comparison of the data from the two counties that do not appear on both lists, Jefferson and Benton, indicates that there is basis to the opposition’s argument. The two lists have nine counties in common. The only counties not appearing on both lists are Jefferson, ranking second in ticket sales and 12th in scholarships, and Benton, ranking 12th in ticket sales and third in scholarships. Both counties did appear on the list of the 10 most populous counties in the state. Those counties are, in descending order: Pulaski, Benton, Washington, Sebastian, Faulkner, Saline, Garland, Craighead, Jefferson and White. Interim Lottery Director Julie Baldridge told an Arkansas News Bureau reporter that it is “satisfying to know that we don’t have counties that are spending money and then not receiving benefits.” The Commercial opposed the creation of the lottery on the position the poor would be likely to buy the most tickets and the more affluent likely would benefit the most from scholarships. The lottery should provide demographic information on the actual families receiving scholarships, not just numbers of scholarships awarded by county. Jefferson County residents are spending lots of money on lottery tickets and not getting very much benefit in return.