Oklahoma lottery officials get little backing for proposal

Oklahoma lottery officials would like to eliminate or reduce the requirement that 35 percent of profits go to education. Lowering the profit margin would allow the lottery to increase prizes, which would generate more sales and increase money going to education, they say.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: January 29, 2013 at 9:12 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013

A repeated request by Oklahoma Lottery officials to change a state law that requires 35 percent of lottery earnings go to education didn't get much support Tuesday from a legislative panel.

Rep. Sally Kern, chairman of a House of Representatives budget subcommittee on nonappropriated agencies, said she opposes the idea because it would encourage more people to gamble.

“I would be hesitant to decrease it just to entice our people to gamble more,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City. “Those that are going to gamble are going to gamble.”

Kern, who doesn't buy lottery tickets, said statistics show people who can least afford to gamble are more likely to gamble.

Rollo Redburn, executive director of Oklahoma's lottery, said eliminating or reducing the profit percentage to education would make prizes more competitive and as a result generate more money for education.

“If the requirement for the profit was lowered or eliminated, we would be able to put more money into the prizes; the players would respond to that and would be happier about the games having better prizes; they'd win more often, sales would increase; and our profits would improve,” he said.

All lottery profit is for Oklahoma education, he said, but the 35 percent profit requirement restricts prize payouts and doesn't encourage sales.

Bills seeking to lower the profit percentage to increase sales have been filed the past several years but have failed to advance.

The Oklahoma lottery has avoided reducing the prizes it offers for its games by reducing operating expenses, Redburn said. The number of employees has dropped from 38 to 28 in the past three years — by six in the past year — and it has reduced its annual advertising expenses from $5.8 million to less than $2 million during the past three years.

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