The North Carolina Education Lottery has brought nearly $16 million in funds to Yadkin County during its 10 years of existence, and revenues continue to grow each year.
When a fifth Monday night occurs in a month, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education traditionally get together for a dinner and joint meeting to share what’s happening with each other’s entities. This week, that meeting included a presentation and question-and-answer session with Van Denton, director of communications for the North Carolina Education Lottery.
“One thing the lottery might have in common with a school board member and a commissioner is there are things we can control and things we can’t control,” said Denton as he introduced his presentation.
In its 10 years, the lottery has raised more than $4.6 billion for education in North Carolina, Denton said, and last year the revenue was more than $600 million.
The part the lottery commission can’t control is how the Legislature decides to spend those revenues each year.
“Yadkin County is getting about $2 million, and added up over time that is $15.9 million,” Denton said, adding that of that amount, $5.5 million has gone for teacher salaries, enough revenue to fund 104 teaching positions in the 10-year span.
In addition, $4.9 million has gone to school construction and repair funds in Yadkin County, and Denton said it appeared most of that was used to build Forbush and Starmount middle schools. Broken down, the lottery has provided $927,498 in 2008 for preconstruction services and then $750,000 each year from 2001-2016 on debt service for those buildings.
Also, $3.6 million has been used in Yadkin County to fund 820 slots in prekindergarten programs during the lottery’s 10-year existence, with an additional $1.4 million aiding students through scholarships and grants to further their education. Those scholarships have helped 959 Yadkin County students.
When the lottery was first enacted, it was set up with proceeds to be divided and spent 50 percent toward classroom teachers and prekindergarten programs, 40 percent toward school construction and 10 percent toward college scholarships.
Over the years, the General Assembly has adjusted those percentages and what the funds are spent for, with the new formula being 63 percent on noninstructional support personnel, 17 percent on school construction, 13 percent on prekindergarten, five percent on college scholarships and two percent on UNC need-based aid.
Denton said much of the challenge is how to make sure people in the state are seeing where the lottery revenue is being used and how it will benefit the state and its education systems. “Our position is we say we hope this money is in addition to what’s there and is used in programs where the public can see the benefits,” he said.
Most states in the south with a lottery use the revenues to support their education systems, but Denton said the revenues are used for a gamut of things in other places, explaining that Pennsylvania uses the funding for senior programs while Colorado’s revenues support outdoor programs.
“Ninety-five cents of every dollar spent on the lottery comes back into our economy,” Denton added.
In a pie chart, Denton showed how the revenues are divided out among the lottery’s expenses, with 64 percent used on prizes for winners, who in turn use the money for everything from paying for students’ educations to taking vacations to buying new homes and beyond. Other revenue is divided with 24.5 percent on earnings for education, seven percent on retail commissions to the locations who sell the tickets and 4.5 percent on administrative costs such as personnel, advertising and auditing.
“We are audited to be sure the money is spent properly and we undergo performance audits,” Denton said. Also, the Legislature limits the amount of money which can be used to advertise the lottery to one percent, or $20 million. He said while that may sound like a lot of money, the individual presidential candidates will spend more than that on this year’s election campaign.
“We have lots of games, and new games and products need to be advertised,” Denton said. “Our performance audit says that one percent restriction is holding us back from earning more.”
He said while the lottery is available so people can have fun and raise money for a good cause, North Carolina also has one of the most active gambling addiction help programs of any state, with the North Carolina Problem Gambling Program funded solely by the lottery and offering help to those who find themselves with addiction issues involving the lottery or even online gambling.
“We take responsible play very seriously, we want to mitigate anything we do that would encourage people to play more than is responsible,” Denton said, noting that even when a jackpot grows extremely large, the North Carolina lottery doesn’t advertise or encourage people to buy multiple tickets because the odds of winning are so low.
He shared what three Yadkin County lottery winners decided to do with their prize money, which included retirement and vacationing.
Twenty retailers in Yadkin County are earning $287,000 a year in commissions from lottery sales, Denton said as he pointed out how the lottery is benefiting the local economy.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.