Georgia Lottery sends more money to HOPE, pre-k

Another good year for the Georgia Lottery meant more money for the state's pre-kindergarten and HOPE college scholarship programs, but it isn't enough to keep state officials from worrying about HOPE's future.

The Georgia Lottery Corp. announced Wednesday that profits increased again during the 2010 fiscal year -- providing a dozen consecutive years of growth.

As a result, the lottery increased its payments to the popular pre-k and HOPE programs. During the 2010 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the lottery transferred about $883.9 million -- an increase of about $11.7 million, or 1.4 percent, over the previous year.

"In spite of this gray, darkish economy, we are very grateful that Georgians continue to respond to what we put out there," Georgia Lottery President and CEO Margaret DeFrancisco said in an interview. "We feel very fortunate that we are able to do what we've done."

While the Georgia Lottery is considered one of the most successful in the country, it is unable to keep pace with the rapid growth and cost of the education programs it was created to support.

Lottery revenue didn't generate enough money for HOPE during the 2010 fiscal year, and state officials for the first time in nearly a decade tapped into a $1 billion reserve fund. The reserves are projected to drop to about $373 million by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which oversees HOPE.

The commission is scheduled to meet with members from the state House and Senate education committees Aug. 2 to discuss the program's finances and possible changes. Commission leaders have recommended lawmakers amend the program during the next legislative session, warning the program could run out of money if long-term changes aren't made.

Still, the lottery has raised more than $11.9 billion for education programs since its inception in 1993. More than 1.2 million students have received money through HOPE, and more than 1 million 4-year-olds have enrolled in pre-k programs.

Officials said the addition of several games -- such as Powerball and an instant game themed to the Atlanta Falcons -- helped boost its growth.

"We remain focused on our mission to maximize profits for HOPE scholarships and pre-k," DeFrancisco said.

Sales for the 2010 fiscal year were about $3.64 billion -- down slightly from the $3.66 billion for the previous fiscal year.

DeFrancisco said the lottery reaped higher profits because while sales declined in a couple of instant games, those awards tend to have higher payouts. Sales, meanwhile, remained strong in drawing games where the payouts tend to be less, she said.