What would compel the top executive of a state agency with more than $2 billion in annual sales to drive nearly two hours to a community meeting in tiny Malvern, Ohio? The hope of dispelling what he calls a myth, of course.
"The one big concern, the one big misconception," explained Tom Hayes, director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, "is, people say, Well, we passed the lottery, that should fund all of education.' We send all of our profits to education, but that isn't going to fund all of education."
Not even close. In 2004, Ohio spent $15.9 billion on public education, paid for by a split of state, local and federal money. The lottery paid $648 million -- or about 4 cents of every dollar spent on education.
Hayes, who has led the lottery since January, said nearly half his time has been spent trying to reverse the misconception and essentially clear the lottery's name. Too many people, he said, blame the lottery for failed school tax requests.
For that reason, the Ohio Lottery has partnered with the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, or BASA, and launched a speakers bureau, offering to drop in on community discussions anywhere a tax is on the ballot.
Last Thursday, Hayes was in Malvern, the sleepy home of the Hornets, population 1,220, about 15 miles southeast of Canton. A town with one traffic light, one building that houses the elementary, middle and high schools, and a Dairy Queen that is a popular hangout even on a cool spring evening.
On Tuesday, voters in Ohio will decide nearly 200 school tax requests, including one in Malvern's Brown Local School District. The district will be on the ballot for the sixth time in three years - each of the previous five issues failed. And part of the trouble is that some in town believe that paying for education is the lottery's business.
"Our local residents are tired of being taxed and so they are saying, 'Wait a minute, what happened to the lottery?' " said Brown Superintendent Connie Griffin.
Griffin organized a school funding meeting attended by about 40 residents, and explained the district's financial situation and how the 6.3-mill emergency operating levy would help. She invited Hayes to address the lottery's role.
"Honestly, I think the reason they are putting together a public-relations campaign - that's what I call it - is because they are also getting a bad reputation," Griffin said of the Lottery Commission.
Hayes doesn't deny that.
"People want to believe what they want to believe," he said. "I think that what we can do is try to make people realize that every dollar we raise, a portion of that goes to kids."
So, how is it that 31 years since the first lottery drawing, the commission finds itself trapped in this unshakable public-relations nightmare?
Two theories could explain it. In 1971, the lottery was most vigorously supported by Cleveland-area Sen. Ron Mottl Sr. and the proposed measure earmarked lottery profits for education.
But by 1973, when the lottery was approved, profits were instead destined for the state's general revenue fund. From that fund, some of the lottery money was shifted to education.
But some people never forgot that original intention. In 1987, Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment stipulating that all lottery profits be used for public education.
"People assumed that the lottery would take care of education and almost be a sole source of funding, which we never intended," said Mardele Cohen, lottery spokeswoman.
The other theory is that proponents, perhaps, lawmakers among them, campaigned for the lottery as an alternative to rising property taxes and a reason for defeating school taxes.
"I was alive in 1973 and I distinctly remember, as do many people, all the rhetoric about how the lottery was going to make a huge impact on school funding," said anti-gambling activist David Zanotti of the Ohio Roundtable, a public policy group.
"The odds of winning the lottery are 14 million to 1," he said. "They deal in illusion every day, so it's likely they would call a myth which really is reality."
Zanotti said he agrees that the lottery was not sold as a cure for all school money problems, just that it was supposed to slow the rising number of school tax requests.
If that were true, then the lottery is missing the mark. In 2004, a record 618 school issues were on ballots statewide, according to the Ohio Department of Education. On Tuesday, 197 school issues will be on the ballot, the most ever for a May election.
Zanotti and other opponents also have complained that instead of adding to the education budget, lottery profits have been used to supplement the state's budget - for every dollar the lottery puts in, the state is bad a buck back from education and spends it elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the lottery's contribution is declining because as education costs have risen, the lottery's sales have remained relatively stagnant. This is despite the fact Ohio joined the multistate Mega-Millions game in 2002 expecting to increase sales and send more to education.
The school funding problem is arguably the most difficult task facing lawmakers. The Ohio Supreme Court has declared Ohio's current system unconstitutional, noting the overreliance on local property taxes. But the lottery was never intended to be the answer, former state legislator Mottl has said.
In a 1994 interview with The Plain Dealer, Mottl said that each year people would ask if the lottery would solve the school funding problem.
"You show me where I ever said that. . . . There's nothing on paper where I said that," Mottl was quoted as saying.
One fact is clear: Since 1975, the lottery has sent $13 billion to Ohio education.
In 2004, the lottery sold $2.2 billion in tickets. After paying prize winners, bonuses and commissions to ticket vendors, and administrative costs, the remaining $648 million went to education.
The only way the lottery could do more for education, Hayes said, is for Ohioans to spend more on lottery games.
"If you want the lottery to be responsible for funding schools, then we need $50 billion in sales," said Hayes, standing in the Malvern High gymnasium. "And it's not going to happen."