BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabamians determined to play the lottery are well known for packing up the car and heading to states such as Georgia to buy lottery tickets. With that in mind, we examined the Georgia Lottery to learn more about how it works, where the money goes, and who benefits.
Candi Peeples is the owner of Peeples Law, a boutique family law firm in Birmingham. Today, she and her family live and work in the Magic City. But for Peeples, Alabama is not her original sweet home.
“I grew up in a small town in south Georgia called Fitzgerald,” Peeples said.
That’s where she went to high school, graduating in 1993. 18 years old, wide-eyed, and with the world on a string, it was time for college.
“Growing up in Georgia I knew I wanted to go to Georgia,” Peeples said. “The question was, how was that going to work?
Peeples’ parents, Donny and Blanche, were determined to send Candi to the University of Georgia. But money was tight.
And then, an unexpected letter arrived in the mail from a new and, at the time, little known fund. Peeples had received the Hope Scholarship, an award “available to Georgia residents who have demonstrated academic achievement,” per the GSFC website.
“I found out I was going to get a full tuition scholarship to the University of Georgia,” Peeples said. “For me, it made a huge difference.”
Since 1993, 1.8 million Georgia high school students, just like Candi, have received that same scholarship.
But where does the money come from?
The Georgia Lottery.
A portion of the proceeds from every scratch-off, every Powerball drawing, and every print-out go back into education.
To learn more about how the Georgia lottery works, we set off for the Peach State and met up with Georgia State Senator Ed Harbison (D-Columbus) who is an ardent supporter of the lottery.
“In the short run, short run [being] 20 years, it has been really great,” Harbison said. “It’s been a big boom. Everybody wants to get on board and everybody wants a piece of it.”
Public information from the Georgia Lottery shows that in 2018, they sold over $4 billion worth of lottery tickets. The proceeds went to four different places.
The biggest slice goes to prizes, which is about $2.7 billion. Next, you have gaming and operating expenses, which was an extra $180 million. Another $271 million was paid out as commission to retailers.
The last slice, worth $1.14 billion, went to education. That includes the HOPE Scholarship, the HOPE Grant, the Zell Miller Scholarship, and the state’s Pre-K program.
According to the Georgia Lottery, “more than $5 billion has been appropriated to send more than 1.6 million four-year-olds to Pre-K programs throughout the state.”
The Georgia Lottery claims to generate over $3 million a day for education throughout the state and, “more than $8 billion in lottery proceeds have been appropriated and distributed to more than 1.8 million HOPE Scholarship recipients” since 1993.
But the lottery, by Harbison’s own admission, is not perfect. Harbison acknowledges that the lottery is played more commonly by those of lower socioeconomic classes.
A 2011 study by Journal Gambling Studies shows that in 2011, 61% of those surveyed living in the lowest of five socioeconomic classes have played the lottery. By comparison, 42% of those surveyed in the highest group have played the lottery.
In spite of this statistical discrepancy, Harbison believes that the lottery serves as an investment in the future.
“It’s designed to help those children who are talented,” Harbison said. “Those kids that are talented, whether they’re wealthy or not, they’re going to get an education in the state of Georgia.”
Harbison believes that the lottery has been so successful that he’s currently working on legislation that would expand the lottery in an effort to generate funding for veterans.
For beneficiaries of the Georgia Lottery like Candi Peeples, she’s now the mother of two children: a 13-year-old son named Chandler and a 10-year-old daughter named Lilly. As the day nears when they too will head off to college, Peeples tells CBS 42 that she would love to see something just like the Hope Scholarship right here in Alabama.
“If there was an education lottery that came to Alabama and my children were to be beneficiaries of that I would be very grateful and I would think it would be a great investment in the future of our state,” Peeples said.
While a portion of the proceeds for the Georgia Lottery is earmarked for education, there is no such stipulation for the lottery bill that was passed by the Alabama Senate Thursday afternoon.