Michigan welfare recipients couldn't claim major prizes
Michigan lawmakers are being asked to prevent any person receiving welfare from winning major Michigan State Lottery prizes, and the idea has area residents and business people at odds.
If signed into law, the proposed legislation would prohibit a person getting welfare, food stamps or Medicaid from collecting a lottery prize of more than $600. If the prize were larger, the portion not paid to the winner would go to the state School Aid Fund, as does all unclaimed lottery prize money.
House Bill 6534 was introduced Oct. 5 by state Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills and co-sponsored by House members Jim Stamas of Midland, David Agema of Grandville and Pete Lund of Shelby Township. All are Republicans.
McMillin, a freshman legislator, said he introduced the bill because the concept had been on his mind and he wanted to "open up debate."
"The lottery is a bad gamble for a lot of people," McMillin said. "Some people play it for recreation. One too many times, I saw people standing in line who appeared to be poor and they were buying tons of lottery tickets."
McMillin said his goal is to keep people in need from wasting money.
"They should save it and buy some clothes and food — and make sure they're looking good when they go out for a job interview," McMillin said.
"You can't stop somebody from buying the tickets," he added, "so this was the only way to dampen the desire to throw their money away."
Local views about the proposal seem mixed.
"That ain't right," Paul Schultz, 53, of Port Huron said. "That's not fair. They paid for their ticket. It might help them out."
"Why should they do that?" said Norene Ruel, 59, of Port Huron. "I don't think that's right. If they want to spend their money on the lottery, let them."
Tom Bachman, 66, of Port Huron had a different perspective.
"If they're on welfare," he said, "they've got no business spending their money on the lottery."
Bachman's view was echoed by Najib Kakos, who owns Buscemi's/Beverage Barrel in downtown Port Huron, where lottery tickets are sold. He said the legislation would have his support regardless of its impact on lottery sales at his business.
"We have family members that own businesses in the Detroit area, primarily in really poor neighborhoods," he said. "Their lottery sales are unbelievable compared to ours.
"If you're barely making it, you shouldn't be gambling," Kakos said. "The money should be used for food and shelter. It doesn't matter if it hurts our sales — it's about doing what's right."
One owner of a ticket outlet disagreed.
"If a person got a million-dollar ticket, then they should win a million — or $50,000 or whatever," said Dennis Zielke, owner of Adair Market in Casco Township. "They should be able to have it."
Owners of several local stores that sell lottery tickets declined comment.
Andi Brancato, director of public relations for the Michigan Lottery, said there are concerns about the idea.
"There are some questions about the enforcement provisions which we don't really feel are in the bill right now," she said. "So, without any enforcement provisions, it's difficult for us to elaborate on the bill."
McMillin said enforcement would occur at the state level because $600 is the maximum amount that can be paid out at the store where the winning ticket was bought.
For any greater prize, "the winner has to come to Lansing to get it," he said, "and they can match up the name and ensure that they're not on state assistance."
McMillin said he knows of no other state that has adopted such a plan but said a similar bill was considered — and rejected — in Tennessee.
As for his own proposal, "I don't expect it to necessarily pass this year," McMillin said.