Lottery long on hope, but still no golden goose

  • By Eric Stevick
  • Sunday, May 8, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

In the 15 years I worked the education beat, I’d get a couple dozen calls a year from people griping about education funding.

Mostly, their indignation coincided with a levy or a bond measure on the ballot. They didn’t think that their local school district should be able to get deeper into their wallets when the state had the golden goose that is the lottery.

The truth is the Washington State Lottery isn’t the ticket to solving the state’s budget woes or financing education’s many needs.

Sure, it generated nearly a half billion bucks in sales last year, including about $48.5 million in Snohomish County alone.

But most of the money flows right back into the lottery, starting with $291.8 million in prizes and nearly $75 million in operations costs.In 2004, we took a look at where lottery money was spent. It dispelled the notion that lottery proceeds played a major role in local school construction.

Little has changed since then: The lottery helps some, but most of the burden remains with local taxpayers who must approve bond measures to build new schools (see attached list).

Consider this: the lottery provided about $97 million to building schools last year; voters in Snohomish approved a school construction bond measure of $261 million in 2008.

The lottery remains a vibrant government enterprise. Mainly, it provides entertainment for folks willing to plunk down a few bucks for a fleeting dream. In Snohomish County, losses outpaced winnings last year enough to cost every person in the county about $24 — about a half a tank of gas these days.

When we reported on lottery proceeds eight years ago, we encountered roadblocks, some technological. This time, we found a more transparent operation and a ready willingness to provide data in a timely manner. A good starting point is the lottery’s annual report.

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