CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Georgia Lottery sales down, but education’s take increases

Georgia Lottery ticket sales declined about $29 million during the recently completed fiscal 2017, but the amount of money sent to school programs increased slightly.

The lottery sold $4.218 billion in tickets in fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, compared with $4.247 billion the previous year.

Lottery officials said sales figures in 2016 were helped by a world-record $1.6 billion jackpot and an extra day of sales, since it was a leap year.

Ticket sales have only declined from year to year a few times since the games were started in 1993. Ticket sales pay for HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten classes.

The lottery transferred $1.101 billion to those programs during fiscal 2017, up slightly from the $1.097 billion going to education the previous year.

The transfer to education programs was the largest in the lottery’s 24-year history.

It’s unclear whether the slight increase will offer lottery officials any breathing room from state lawmakers pushing for the games to do even more for schools and students.

Under state law, the lottery is supposed to return as close as possible to 35 percent of ticket sales to the programs that administer the HOPE college scholarships and pre-k classes. The lottery hasn’t come close to that figure in many years. It was 26 percent in fiscal 2017 and 25.8 percent in fiscal 2016.

The Georgia Senate passed legislation during the 2017 General Assembly session mandating the games transfer a higher percentage of ticket sales to education in future years. The bill is a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, and it remains alive for the upcoming 2018 session.

The bill would force the lottery to transfer 28.5 percent of ticket sales to education programs by 2020. At that level, the lottery would have turned over an extra $100 million to education programs in fiscal 2017, based on ticket sales.

Lottery officials, however, fear raising the percentage going to education would cut into the prize money paid out to lottery players, which was about $2.74 billion during the past fiscal year. If players get less in payouts, officials say, ticket sales may drop.

That would leave the education programs with a higher percentage of lower ticket sales.

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