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Near-record lottery proceeds benefit California schools

February 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Good news for California's schools as they cope with big budget cuts: California's lottery is on track to bring in record revenues this year.

California lottery tickets are hot these days -- so hot, the state is on pace to set a record by the end of the fiscal year in June: $4 billion in sales, the highest ever in its 26-year history.

Lottery officials credit the spike to a new "Scratcher" game that began last fall. All 36 million tickets printed will likely sell out by the end of the month.

"It's really all about the Scratchers games. People love our new Scratchers tickets," said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Lottery. "We've got a new $10 ticket on the market that is selling unbelievably well. And that's really been the difference."

But is it really the new game, or are the poor feeling desperate?

Last year, before the new Scratcher, sales jumped nearly 15 percent.

Consumer psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow, a professor at Golden Gate University, says the economy definitely plays a role.

"When people feel like they have less money and less economic security, they spend more money on lottery tickets," said Yarrow. "The very people that shouldn't be buying lottery tickets, those with the least amount of money, are the most likely to increase spending in a bad economy."

California Lottery says it's not just the poor who are playing. Their surveys show customers are from all economic backgrounds, mirroring California.

Whatever the reason, the winners in the end are public schools: They get almost one-third of proceeds. If the record sales hold, classrooms could see an extra $80 million.

But school finance consultant Kevin Gordon warns districts that if voters reject Governor Brown's tax initiative in November, more cuts are on the horizon.

"Our advice is to take what money you do get from the lottery and put that into the reserves that you set aside. Don't spend it," said Gordon.

That's good advice, considering the state controller just announced tax revenues are more than a billion dollars below projections.