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Are Georgia casinos worth the gamble for education?

Other than my daily commute on I-285, I'm not fond of gambling.

Or am I? I buy a lottery ticket every week. For $2, it's a cheap source of hope.

The Georgia Lottery provides a more practical type of HOPE to high school students -- the hope they can afford to go to college.

When the lottery-funded scholarship debuted in 1993 it paid 100 percent of tuition at public Georgia universities. The lottery is popular, but ticket sales haven't kept pace with the cost of tuition, which rose 77 percent in a recent 10-year-period .

Currently, HOPE pays up to $3,600 a semester for tuition at Georgia universities, which is about 82 percent of the cost at Georgia State University, according to their website.

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Both Democratic candidates for governor, Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, say shoring up HOPE is a priority, and both have identified casinos as a new revenue stream . Both candidates have received campaign funds from MGM Resorts International, which has pitched a $1 billion casino in Atlanta.

Gov. Nathan Deal, and every GOP candidate eager to replace him, opposes the legalization of casino gambling. In 2015, Deal said casinos offer "very little redeeming value" but he might change his position "if they’re willing to put anywhere from 24 to 35 percent of their gross revenue into education … as the (Georgia Lottery) does."

I'm not rooting for casinos in Georgia, but, unlike many, I don't draw much of a distinction between the different forms of gambling. In my experience, and several studies, all forms of gambling take more from the poor than it gives.

A 2016 Vox article says "people in wealthy neighborhoods don't buy lottery tickets" for daily games and "African-Americans spend five times more on lottery tickets than white people." According to Vox, the vast majority of lottery revenue comes from daily and instant games, not big jackpots that wealthier people tend to buy.

Is this true in Georgia? The Georgia Lottery has a great website where you can see county-by-county breakdowns of lottery winnings and spending. The data encompasses everything from 1994 to 2017, so the numbers are rather large, but, if you divide by county population a few things are worth noting.

Of the five counties I looked at (Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton) Fulton lottery players won the most cash per capita, almost $7,000 over the 13-year period. Gwinnett, the second most populous county after Fulton, won the least, only $1,090.

Gwinnett was the only county where the lottery provided more in HOPE scholarship funds per capita ($1,329) than residents won ($1,090).

Clayton residents won the second most cash per capita ($4,161) but received the least in scholarship funds ($624).

Which county had the most HOPE scholarship recipients if you divide by county population? Cobb, with 0.17 students per capita, followed by Gwinnett (0.14), Clayton (0.13), Fulton (0.11) and DeKalb (0.11).

The Georgia Lottery has been a big win for education, contributing an average of $3 million per day for HOPE and pre-K programs.

It's doubtful a single casino, or even several casinos, could provide a revenue stream akin to the lottery. In Arizona, where 24 casinos operate, only $44 million was devoted to education in 2014. More than 25 percent of the proceeds went to pay raises for adults.

In Maryland, politicians used casino funds to help pay for education, but cut school budgets. The extra loot went to raises and other state projects.

Are casinos worth the trouble in Georgia? With politicians and money, it's always a gamble.

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