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Florida's Luckiest Economic Engine Alive and Well

March 24, 2013 - 7:00pm

The Florida Lottery drew its first seven numbers on May 7, 1988, but the sequence -- 30, 44, 17, 49, 42, 15 -- didn't produce any millionaires. The $2 million jackpot rolled over to the next drawing. It wasn't until three weeks later that Florida had its first lottery millionaire when Josie Moore of Part Charlotte took home a $14 million jackpot.

Over the next 25 years, the Florida Lottery created 992 more millionaires. The latest is an as-yet-unclaimed ticket sold in Key West, worth $17 million, in February. Through the end of 2012, the Florida Lottery had collected $18.7 billion in ticket sales, paid out $9.3 billion to prizewinners -- and supported Florida's public education budget with $7.2 billion. If you count other Florida Lottery games as well, such as Mega Millions and the scratch-off tickets games, the contribution swells to $24 billion.

What the lottery is and what it isn't

A cynic might call the lottery a tax on people who flunked statistics in high school. And it's true that the house almost always wins. Only 61 percent of incoming revenue goes back in the form of prize checks, after all.

But that's hardly the whole story. The lottery sends 30 percent of ticket sales straight to the state budget for public education, directly funding programs such as Bright Futures college scholarships. That's how the state-run game contributes to Florida's future while also tapping into the more immediate hopes of multi-million jackpots. The lottery is, in fact, very efficient at pumping revenue back into the Floridian economy.

"The Florida Lottery has one of the lowest operating expenses of any lottery in the nation," says lottery spokeswoman Shelly Gerteisen. "The lottery reinvests nearly 98 percent of its revenue back into Florida's economy through prize payouts, commissions to more than 13,000 Florida retailers and transfers to education."

25 years and kicking

The lottery is flourishing in every sense of the word. About 70 percent of Florida's adult population have played in the last year, up from 66 percent in 2002. Ticket sales per player have remained remarkably constant. Inflation-adjusted sales per capita have grown just 1.5 percent in 25 years, and now stand at $245.61 annually.

The Florida Lottery passed the $4 billion mark in annual sales two years ago and is still looking to grow further. At this rate, more than $1 billion per year makes its way into the state's Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. That's 6 percent of Florida's overall education budget.On Monday, the Lottery announced a record $25 billion has now gone to the EETF.

In reaction, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, Todays news that the lottery has reached $25 billion in investments for education is great news, and means more Florida students will have the opportunity to get a great education. My top priority is to create jobs and opportunities for Florida families and since we took office, Florida has created thousands of new private-sector jobs. We have also worked to ensure that every student can access a great education.

A new look for the lucky flamingo

A recently launched rebranding campaign aims to keep the lottery fresh and relevant in years to come, and the 25-year anniversary will also boost consumer interest in the near term. The art deco flamingo has been replaced by a more modern version.

Even in its marketing, the operation strives for efficiency. The rebranding push will replace a more than two-decades-old message across the state with a budget of just $1.1 million, or 0.02 percent of its sales in 2012.

The hunger for instant riches will stay married to high-quality support for Florida's children. It's the most fun you'll ever have while paying school taxes.

Anders Bylund writes special to Sunshine State News.

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