Eyebrow: LOTTERY SPENDING Hopes of rags to riches

Erin Smith Staff writer

October 19, 2013

Every day in Bladen County, numbers of folks stand in line to purchase lottery tickets — often times paying with quarters, dimes, nickles and even pennies — with the hopes of hitting it big. Many of those who choose to play, however, are those who can least afford it.

N.C. House Rep. William Brisson, D-Dublin, said lottery spending will be greatest in high poverty areas.

The numbers bear that out.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Bladen County has a poverty rate of 24.1 percent, while the poverty rate for the state is just 15.1 percent. The Employment Security Commission reported Bladen’s unemployment rate to be 11.4 percent in August — well above the state rate of 8.3 percent. The median per capita household income in Bladen County was reported to be $34,438 by the N.C. Department of Commerce County Profile, well below the median per capita household income for the state which is $57,171.

But when the lottery is factored in, according to an analysis of lottery spending performed by The Fayetteville Observer, lottery spending per adult in Bladen County so far in 2013 is $277 — and for the state so far this year, the spending per adult is $223.

Around the Cape Fear region, lottery spending per adult was $320 in Cumberland, $241 in Columbus, $196 in Harnett, $279 in Robeson, and $286 in Sampson.

“People are just wishing and hoping. They’re just dreaming and for some it’s the only dream they’ve got,” said Brisson. “I see them standing in line and I know they can’t afford it.”

According to Brisson, about 37 percent of the money spent goes toward education and the rest is allocated to administrative costs. The money from the lottery is spent on such things as construction or school supplies.

“Now the legislature is trying to change it (the guidelines for spending) for the local administration to have more say-so with the money,” Brisson said. “I’m not happy with that.”

Brisson said the danger he sees in such a proposal is that local administrators could potentially spend more lottery funds on administrative needs and with less being spent in the classrooms or on construction.

He added the Charter Schools are also seeking a portion of the lottery funds.

“The money follows the students,” said Brisson. “At the end of the day, I don’t have a problem with it if the standards are the same, but they are not.”

Charter Schools do not have the same regulations and rules to meet as standard public schools, said Brisson.

He pointed out that a Charter School can construct a building at one-third of the cost to build a public school building. He added there are exemptions allowed for charter schools that are not afforded to public schools.

Brisson added the lottery is slowly moving away from its intended purpose.

“We are slowly moving away from being an education lottery. .. To sell it as an education lottery I think we need to be putting 51 percent back into education,” said Brisson. “A lot of people think all of it (the proceeds generated) goes to education, but there is a lot of expense in running a lottery.”

Bladenboro Mayor Livingston Lewis said, “People are going to spend their money like they want to spend it … I don’t buy lottery tickets.”

Bladen County Department of Social Services Director Vickie Smith said of the spending amount, “I wouldn’t have thought it was that high in Bladen County.”

Smith said that if someone is found to be arrears in terms of child support and in cases fraud their lottery winnings can be intercepted to help repay the system.

“We find that with the population we serve they are desperate. When you hear about someone winning thousands of dollars at a time it might encourage them to spend more,” said Smith. “They are just trying to see a glimmer of hope.”

A message left for Bladen County Schools Supt. Robert Smith were unreturned as of press time.