Reacting to an investigative series by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee has voted unanimously to fast-track a study of the Maine State Lottery. Panel members are keen to learn if the Lottery’s advertising strategy specifically targets Maine’s poor.
People on public assistance spent hundreds of millions on the lottery – and took home $22 million in winnings
Mainers on the state’s three major public assistance programs spent hundreds of millions on lottery tickets from 2010 to 2014 and won $22 million, according to a state analysis obtained by the Center through the public records law and an economist expert in state lotteries. Winning does not necessarily disqualify recipients from remaining on any of the programs (food stamps, aid to families and MaineCare). This is the fifth story in the series, “Lottery: Selling hope to the hopeless.”
Lawmakers from both parties are calling for closer scrutiny of Maine’s $230 million-a-year state-run lottery, including determining if its advertising targets Maine’s poor, who are the state’s most avid players.
The Maine state lottery receives little oversight by the state legislature because, as one ex-legislator put it, the state is “drunk” on the $50 million revenue that ticket sales add to the state treasury and no one wants to question the ethics of state-promoted gambling if it might mean giving up that money.
When the state lottery began in 1973, Mainers were not buying tickets at the rate officials had counted on. The state’s response, which continues to today, was to spend millions on marketing and ad campaigns to entice once-flinty Mainers to gamble on long-odds tickets in hopes of getting rich quick. The lottery has more than tripled its in-state advertising expenditures since 2003. It now budgets $3.5 million a year for promoting its Maine and Tri-State lotto games, big jackpot draw games it operates with New Hampshire and Vermont.
A first-ever statistical analysis of Maine Lottery sales figures and census data by Cornell University and commissioned by The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting shows that lottery ticket sales go up when people lose their jobs. For every one percent increase in joblessness in a given zip code, sales of scratch and draw tickets jump 10 percent.
LePage killed ethics reform bill that would bar legislators from paying themselves, family members with PAC money
A bill that would have tightened up regulations that allowed a Sanford legislator to pay himself and family members from a political action committee (PAC) he controlled was killed in late June by a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, which the Maine Senate failed to override.
While Gov. Paul LePage and the legislature focus on welfare fraud, four straight audits have warned the state that it may be improperly paying hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment checks to people who are not providing the required proof they are looking for work.
The recent two-day conference that corporate giant Time Warner put on for Maine legislators has revealed loopholes in the state’s ethics laws that make it difficult for voters to know if their elected representatives took part.
Time Warner, the state’s largest internet provider, has wined and dined legislators at the opening of this year’s session in hopes of thwarting legislation that would make it easier for cities and towns who want faster internet connections to become broadband providers themselves. The wining and dining was done at an overnight event at a luxury Cape Elizabeth resort and takes place in the context of Time Warner’s nationwide battle against such local efforts to get faster internet.