The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 24, 2014

Powerball, Mega Millions give state budgets a lift

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The scores of losing players in last week's $425 million Powerball jackpot did more than take an extremely long shot at getting rich. Their ticket purchases also helped fund a small but increasingly important part of their states' budgets.

Changes in the nationwide Powerball and Mega Millions games have led to some of the world's largest jackpots in the last two years, boosting player interest and sales. Fueled by the growth of those games and the steady expansion of other offerings, many state lotteries last year reported record revenues and transfers to the state budgets and programs they helped fund.

For every $2 ticket, 50 cents or more might end up paying for police officers in Massachusetts, services for the elderly in Pennsylvania, or education in rural school districts in Idaho, lottery directors say. In all, about $20 billion out of the roughly $70 billion in overall annual lottery revenues is used by states after prize money, retailer commissions, advertising and administrative expenses are taken out. Most states target their lottery revenue to specific causes, with education being the most popular.

Texas Lottery Commission executive director Gary Grief said Powerball sales in his state multiply several times as the jackpots rise, from a normal range of about $3 million per week all the way up to 10 or 15 times that amount. That means millions more dollars for public education in Texas, the lottery's beneficiary, he said.

"That's a very small piece of a big pie, but every dollar counts," he said. "It helps alleviate the drain on other revenue sources for state government."

He and other lottery directors say that revenue from jackpot games still make up a small fraction of overall sales — instant scratch tickets remain their bread and butter.

Overall, state budget experts say lottery revenue typically represents a single-digit percentage of overall state budgets. That means a momentary sales frenzy for Powerball has little impact in the big picture, other than helping the lottery become a dependable and incrementally growing funding source.

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