Martha Keller is a 78-year-old resident of Altoona, Pa., who frequently takes the bus from her apartment on Walnut Avenue to her doctor's office or the local senior center. Chandni Amin is a 19-year-old nursing student at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Keller and Amin have little in common save for one thing — both are benefiting directly from money raised by state lotteries. Lotteries help pay for everything from education to economic development, buses to baseball stadiums.
In Pennsylvania, lottery profits go exclusively to programs for senior citizens. That includes free bus rides on Altoona's metro transit system. Keller said the buses not only allow her to get out and about, they have also expanded her network of friends. Because she is the first picked up and the last dropped off, she has gotten to know other frequent riders.
"Where would I go without it?" Keller said. "I would be sitting in this building."
Amin is a junior at Georgia State. She and her brother both received scholarships paid for by Georgia's lottery profits.
Students who maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in high school can qualify for the "Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally" — or HOPE — scholarships. The scholarships pay full tuition at state colleges and $3,000 toward tuition at private schools, among other things.
Amin said her parents made her aware of the scholarships — and the need to maintain good grades — early on in her schooling.
She could have gone to college without the scholarship, Amin said, "but I wouldn't have had as much freedom."
"My brother graduated, and he doesn't have a single loan," she said. "He has that freedom not to worry about it."
Lotteries typically spend between 25 and 33 cents of every dollar raised on programs, according to David Gale, executive director of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Most of the money raised — between 55 and 65 cents on each dollar — is returned to players in prizes. Between 5 and 6 cents pays for commissions to retailers, and the rest goes toward operating costs.
Education is the most common area that is funded. In New York, all profits must go to education. Twelve other states do the same.
Once a state chooses its priorities, it usually sticks with them.
"It's pretty rare (for a state to change) because in most cases (the priority) is something that is spelled out in the lottery bill," Gale said.
Eight states direct a portion of the profits to the treatment of compulsive gamblers. In fiscal year 2005, Iowa's lottery paid $50 million into the state's general fund and $1 million to the Department of Public Health's Gambling Treatment Program. The program provides counseling and information for gamblers and their families.
Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota also have funded counseling for — or the study of — problem gamblers.
In other states:
- Indiana aims to keep property taxes down by funding capital projects. Another portion goes toward retirement benefits for teachers, police officers and firefighters. And some money - $1.8 million - has been used to help the state comply with the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the 2000 presidential election controversy in Florida.
- Colorado spends much of its revenue on the outdoors. Since the lottery began in 1983, more than $1.7 billion has been used for parks, recreation, open space, conservation education and wildlife projects.
- Washington used some profits to help pay for the construction of Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.