OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A bill moving through the Oklahoma statehouse would allow the state's lottery to increase prizes in hopes of generating more dollars for schools and boost the payout to education by about $100 million over the next five years.
For years, lottery officials have asked lawmakers to let them plug more dollars into prizes in hopes it would increase participation and add more money to educational coffers.
And for years, lawmakers balked.
But this year, faced with a huge budget hole, lawmakers are moving House Bill 1837 through the process. It has made it through the House. Late Wednesday, the measure passed the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 24-9 and is headed for the Senate floor.
Current law requires the lottery to give 35 percent of its profits to education. The bill would remove that profit requirement, said Jay Finks, Oklahoma Lottery director of marketing and administration.
Finks said the lottery has peaked in what it can give to education and now is on a decline.
Lottery revenue going to education hit a high mark in 2008 at $71.6 million.
In fiscal year 2016, it provided $66.4 million, said Rollo Redburn, lottery executive director. In fiscal year 2015, it was $60.1 million, he said.
Part of the problem is competing with other gambling entities, such as casinos, officials have said. In addition, prizes are not large enough to motivate consumers, they said.
"We have the lowest payouts in the country," Finks said. "It impacts sales. We can't grow sales."
Since its inception, the lottery has given $783 million to education, Finks said.
If there are no changes to the current requirements, the lottery will give education $225 million in the next five years, Finks said.
But with the proposed changes in the bill, the lottery expects to give education $335 million in the next five years, Finks said.
"Since the inception of the lottery, proceeds to public schools have steadily declined," said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. "This bill guarantees schools will receive $50 million for this year and all future years. Any additional money would also go to schools. We see this as a win for public schools. The current system for the lottery is not working."
House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, and Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David, R-Porter, are the authors.
Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, was among the nine voting against the measure for what he said was a personal preference.
"I don't think gambling is good for society," Quinn said. "There is plenty of evidence of the harm it causes our society. It preys heavily on the less fortunate. They have the most to lose."
He said the measure will incentivize gambling.
The board of the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association voted to support the measure, said Candace McGinnis, executive director.
"The more people come in and play, the more they are going to buy," she said. "They are going to shop in the store."