The finances of lottery offices

opinion by Maylon Rice

Editor’s note: Maylon Rice has 40 years of experience working as a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several Arkansas newspapers. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

We shall watch and see if the move to relocate the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Redemption Center from Springdale to Fayetteville results in a firestorm of protests in the political world of Northwest Arkansas.

After the facts were brought forth this week by a newspaper about the costs of three lottery redemption office around in the state, Arkansans should be more concerned about the drooping finances of the scholarship lottery program. Maybe we should question why we have these satellite offices.

All of us should be outraged at the cost, staffing and even the virtual need for these three satellite redemption offices in Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro and Camden. Here is finally an issue that gubernatorial candidates Asa Hutchinson ad Mike Ross should weigh in on.

If you have doubts, read on.

Surely the overall cost of these satellite offices will get someone’s attention. If I was the parent of a high school junior or senior and worried about my child, Johnny or Julie, getting an Arkansas Scholarship, I would be outraged.

In Springdale for the last five years, the Arkansas Lottery has paid from the winnings, more than $2,250 a month in rent, or $27,000 a year, for a nice sized office in a strip mall. That is more than $135,000 just for rent. How many scholarships could that have been for students, if those dollars were used for scholarships, rather than rent?

But wait, it gets better.

The Springdale office cuts 2.9 checks a day, or 14.5 checks a week, or 754 checks in a typical year. Two people on the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery payroll cut 2.9 checks on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, or less than 15 checks a week.

The Springdale office of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery does sell lottery tickets and has other duties. How many tickets do they sell a week, a month, a year? We hope to have those figures soon.

Already lottery players can claim winnings up to $500 at the very retailer where they purchased the winning ticket. I have bought lottery scratch off tickets at places where I would be less than assured I could take a $500 check from the owner or manager. Heck, some of those places don’t look like their inventory would equal $500.

All tickets, according to the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery website, may be redeemed via mail, although the sender of the tickets is at the mercy of the U.S. Postal Service.

Looks like all those whiz-bang techno geeks at the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Central Office or those big contract multi-national firms the Lottery Commission hires for game management could figure a way to do this online – including putting the money directly in a bank account for the winners.

But back to the impending political meltdown in Northwest Arkansas.

The Arkansas Lottery Commission began the motions to move the Springdale office to less expensive, i.e., cheaper digs in Fayetteville. After two straight years of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery revenues dropping, maybe it is a prudent action. The move in NWA will, on paper, save about $10,000 a year. That savings in rent will allow a couple of full scholarship rides for at least two kids somewhere in state.

But let’s talk about the Camden office, down in south central Arkansas. The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Redemption office there pays $1,875 a month of $22,500 a year for rented space. The staff of two, a manager and an assistant, cut 2.1 checks per day or 10.5 a week. In a year that office might cut 546 checks, more or less.

Over in Jonesboro that Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Redemption Center is busy. They pay $1,875 a month in rent or about $22,500 year to a local landlord. The same two people as the other centers, a manager and an assistant, cut about 3.5 checks a day, Monday through Friday or about 17.5 a week.  In a year those go-getters in Craighead County will award 910 big ticket winners their prizes.

There is then the Little Rock Redemption Office of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. It is not in the same building as the Lottery Commission offices, but at a separate site. That building costs $2,403 a month. That’s about $28,836 a year, but there is a bigger staff – a manager and two assistants. This trio is also busy greeting winners to the tune of 23.5 checks a day or 117.5 a week or 6,110 in a year. Not bad.

All in all the Lottery Commission pays out $90,245 for rent, plus staff for processing 32 checks every day, or 160 checks a week or 8,320 checks in a year.

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The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery finished the 2014 fiscal year with total sales of $411 million, generating more than $81 million fund scholarships for Arkansas students, according to its news release on July 11.

Don’t you think if you scratched off a big winner on a scratcher ticket, you could get to Little Rock to redeem your winnings? Or maybe be comfortable with a secure online process?

Wait. I have a better idea. I am sure the chancellors at the campuses at Fayetteville, Jonesboro, East Camden and even UALR could find rent-free space for the Scholarship Lottery Redemption Centers. It is, after all, what is fueling their enrollment increases.

You can’t win if you don’t play. If you don’t play little Johnny and Julie might not be on the campus. Let’s end the Regional Redemption Centers all together and put those savings to Johnny or Julie out there.

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Comments

exactly right

I am so glad someone pointed this out. What do these people do all day? I'm sure they are also recieving the same benefits as all state employees - pension, benefits, etc. Next time, take a look and see what the DFA offices are renting their spaces for - many are way over market value. But hey, it's only our tax dollars....

Thank You City Wire

We all suspected that there was a lot of fluff and waste in the lottery operation and now it is a matter of public knowledge thanks to another great report by The City Wire Crew.