Georgia Lottery hits the jackpot: A record $1B profit for education

Georgia’s Lottery has surpassed one milestone after another since its inception in 1993, and now it’s topped one more: $1 billion raised for education in a single year.

Gov. Nathan Deal broke the news Wednesday as the Georgia Lottery closed the books on fiscal 2016, which ended June 30.

In all, the lottery raised about $1.1 billion for the state’s pre-kindergarten program and HOPE scholarships for college students, with 2016 profits exceeding those of 2015 by more than $117 million.

Overall ticket sales hit $4.55 billion, officials said, a more than 8 percent increase.

“This is a great day for Georgia,” Deal said. “We are looked upon by many other states with envy, quite honestly. We’ve had many other states try to replicate the Georgia Lottery. I don’t think any of them have, quite frankly, been as successful as we have.”

The lottery was launched 23 years ago with the idea of using the proceeds to help Georgia children pay for college. It worked, and other states noticed. An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer called it “the kind of thing you look at half in amazement and half in anger, and wonder why your own bonehead state didn’t think of it.”

The idea of a lottery for education convinced more than a dozen states to start their own lotteries and scholarship programs, including neighbors such as Tennessee, which sold its first ticket in 2004.

“We take great pride in our 23 years of success,” said Georgia Lottery President Debbie D. Alford.

Deal acknowledged that he challenged Alford when she took the job in 2012 to figure out how to cross the $1 billion mark.

Four years and many newly launched games later, it happened.

The lottery benefited not just by refreshing its scratch-off and instant games, but also from new revenue brought in by online players and coin-operated amusement machines, as well as from record jackpots in national lotteries such as Mega Millions.

Fiscal 2016 marked the fifth consecutive year profits set a record, a positive trend that comes as the lottery has strained to keep pace with rising college enrollment and tuition.

State lawmakers over the last several years have debated additional potential revenue streams, including casino gambling and horse-race betting, to boost proceeds. But those efforts remain stalled.

Deal, who has opposed the push to expand gambling in Georgia, said he hoped Wednesday’s news eased financial concerns.

“This result this year indicates that we have a pretty good balance,” Deal said. “Our lottery continues to grow and continues to be successful, and if you start tinkering with it too much you could have an undesirable outcome. I hope this year’s revenue growth will give us confidence we’re doing the right thing.”

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