Government & Politics

Missouri House leader wants to give voters the option to end the lottery

Calling it a “dishonest way to fund public education,” Rep. John Diehl, the St. Louis-area Republican who is set to become speaker of the Missouri House, wants voters to decide whether the state’s 30-year-old lottery should come to an end.
Calling it a “dishonest way to fund public education,” Rep. John Diehl, the St. Louis-area Republican who is set to become speaker of the Missouri House, wants voters to decide whether the state’s 30-year-old lottery should come to an end. The Kansas City Star

Calling it a “dishonest way to fund public education,” the Republican set to become speaker of the Missouri House wants voters to decide whether the state’s 30-year-old lottery should come to an end.

Rep. John Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis area, announced last week that he will sponsor legislation to put the question on the 2016 statewide ballot. He noted that although the lottery had record sales during the 2014 budget year, its contribution to education funding is projected to fall from $299 million to $278 million per year.

Nearly $110 million of the lottery’s budget is spent on administrative costs and incentives to retailers. Advertising for the lottery has been budgeted for $16 million. Less than one-quarter of the lottery’s proceeds go to education.

“We aren’t being honest with Missourians when we make them believe the lottery funds education. It does not,” Diehl said. “Missourians need to revisit the issue and answer some tough questions. Is the lottery an honest way to fund education? Should the state be in the gambling business? Who does the lottery really benefit and who does it hurt?”

Diehl said that if voters decide to end the lottery it would likely be phased out. That would give lawmakers time to find more stable revenue streams for education and end other programs. Only 4 percent of the state’s money spent for public education comes from the lottery, Diehl said.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, recently replaced all five members on the Missouri Lottery Commission after recommending it reconsider how much it spends on prizes and advertising and restructure some contracts. Diehl said the governor’s actions are “like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“We don’t need to tweak the lottery,” Diehl said. “We need to look at how people are being misled about the lottery and not addressing the fundamental cost of public education and the government’s role in promoting gambling, often to those who can least afford it.”

Sen. Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat, told the Associated Press he’s worried that replacing lottery funds for education could mean other vital programs like mental heath could face cuts.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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