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Change In Oklahoma Lottery Law Paying Off, Officials Say

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Officials with Oklahoma's Education Lottery say a change in the law is paying off, literally.

They say sales are up, now that they're no longer required to give a specific percentage of proceeds to schools.

Under the original lottery law, 35 percent of all proceeds had to go to education. Lottery officials complained for years that requirement limited how much they could pay out in prizes, which limited the public's enthusiasm for the games.

You've gotta play to win, they say, but in Oklahoma, lottery players weren't winning very much. 

"We had, for 12 years, pretty much the lowest payouts in the country and that fuels a loss in sales and a loss in playership and less money at the end of the day," said Jay Finks with the Oklahoma State Lottery. 

The lottery's contribution to education peaked in its third year at $72 million, it hovered just below that for several years and then began a sharp drop - down to $53 million last year.

"We projected that if we didn't change the law this year we wouldn't even achieve $50 million to the state," Finks said. 

But, legislators did change the law. Now, instead of giving straight up 35 percent of gross proceeds to education, the first $50 million of net proceeds goes into the education trust fund, where it's divided up between common education, higher education, and career tech. Anything above $50 million goes to common ed only and specifically to early childhood and STEM programs.

Lottery officials convinced lawmakers, removing the 35 percent mandate would increase their contribution to education, because they could put more money into prizes, which would boost sales.

And so far, it's working. Retailers like OnCue are seeing it. While they don't disclose specific sales numbers, company executives say the growth is significant. 

"According to the lottery, it's been almost a 40 percent increase across the state and I'd say that our numbers would represtnt a growth in that category," said Scott Minton with OnCue Business Development. 

Lottery officials are now projecting their contribution to education will be back up over $60 million this year.

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