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About a month from now, on Sept. 28, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery will mark its 10th year of existence.

But some are asking is the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery really delivering on what voters were promised a decade ago?

The figures for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery are huge -- I mean big numbers with lots of zeros.

And so are the numbers the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery commission touts amid these "naysayers" who want to criticize the lottery.

The brain-child of former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, remember him? He was the most single-issue Lt. Governor of modern times. All he did was talk up the lottery while running for the No. 2 spot behind front runner Mike Beebe in 2006.

An advocate for more and better education in Arkansas, Halter grabbed upon the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery idea to use proceeds from a lottery to send more students to college from the process of national lottery games -- such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

The lottery was also to sell in-state lottery games, Cash 3 and Cash 4 and Natural State Lotto, plus offer a plethora of instant games -- i.e. scratcher tickets -- offering those who played instant winnings. And thus those students who applied through the state supported scholarship foundation -- a chance to go to junior college, the traditional four-year college and even graduate schools with financial assistance.

The Arkansas voters, led by Halter and others, made the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery become a reality.

More than 547,307 scholarships, worth an estimated $803 million, have been paid since the first scholarships were awarded in 2011, says the lottery on its website.

From 2011 to 2019, the Lottery Commission shows the following counties in Northwest Arkansas have received the listed number of scholarships from the counties mentioned: Benton County -- 38,369, Washington County -- 37,515, Crawford County -- 13,632, and Madison County -- 2,392.

The most scholarships awarded went to Pulaski County -- 70,070. The least amount of scholarship awards were in tiny Calhoun County -- 783.

The rub about recent criticism of the lottery is that only 19.55% of the proceeds went to scholarships in the last fiscal year of the lottery, which ended in June.

The lottery maintains that 75% of all proceeds go to winners of prizes, drawings, scratch off tickets. For instance of the $515,493,507 of total lottery revenues in the past year, the net proceeds were $98,411,747 for a 19.09% for scholarships.

From 2010 to 2013, the lottery net proceeds hoovered in the 20% range -- as high as 21.59% in 2010 and as low as 20.31% in 2011. The last time the net proceeds reached 20% for scholarship awards was in 2013.

Nationally, of the 45 states, including the District of Columbia, that have some form of scholarship lottery or a lottery game tied to educational funding -- Arkansas ranks next to last in fiscal year 2018.

I repeat, Arkansas was next to last in 2018, of the 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have a lottery tied to education in percentage of net proceeds going to scholarships.

Only Wyoming did a more dismal job at allocation of net proceeds to actual educational funding.

Wyoming's percentage was 17.49% on sales of $28,746,140 and net proceeds of $5,026,729.

Arkansas, in fiscal year 2018, was 18.38% based on sales of $499,707,976 and net proceeds of $91,844,929.

Critics say not enough money is being given to the students.

Proponents say leave the formula alone -- the prize money and often times big promises of payouts on the Powerball and Mega Millions (national games) and a lot of big-promise scratcher games -- keep Arkansans and others buying the tickets.

Is the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery paying off the way voters intended?

Stay tuned. The debate rages on while the numbers roll on.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylontrice@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 08/07/2019

Print Headline: Decade later, has Ark. Lottery done it's intended job?

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