Earlier this month, the Ohio Lottery Commission trumpeted its record $2.8 billion in lottery sales for the just- ended 2013 fiscal year and its $803 million contribution to the state’s pot of education funding. Then just this weekend, the Ohio Department of Taxation ballyhooed first-half 2013 casino-gambling proceeds to state schools totaling $45 million.
On the surface, those sums sound like a jackpot for Ohio’s 600-plus public school districts. In perspective, they’re a mere pittance. Before Ohioans get too excited about any perceived cash cow to K-12 education from legalized gambling, it’s time for a serious reality check.
The reality is that revenue from lottery playing and casino and racino gambling in Ohio represents a small, sometimes infinitesimally small, slice of the total school-funding pie.
Perceptions to the contrary, however, are clearly understandable. Ever since Ohio first launched legalized gambling 39 years ago in the form of the state-administered lottery, the state Lottery Commission has accented the games’ support for education. As it did, the myth of lottery proceeds as a panacea for school-funding woes has run rampant, providing many with convenient snap-judgment opposition to local school levies and bond issues.
As Richard Lewis, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, has explained, “While it is true that all Ohio Lottery profits are used by the state to fund education, the profit from increased sales was simply used to free up other state funds that had previously been set aside for schools, allowing more money to be transferred into the state’s rainy day fund.
Lewis is right on the money. The state Legislature determines state foundation payments to school districts within its biennial budgets. They remain constant regardless of the up or down whims of lottery revenue.
NO JACKPOT FROM CASINOS EITHER
As for casino revenue proceeds, the story line runs much the same. Their impact is negligible.
Take Youngstown City Schools, for example. In its most recent casino distribution in January, the district was awarded $112,994, which admittedly helped – ever so slightly – reinforce the district’s $100 million budget. In Canfield, the impact is even more inconsequential. The January installment of about $45,000 represented 0.26 of 1 percent of the district’s $23.7 million annual operating budget.
In short, these payouts to Ohio schools are much akin to the fortunes of casual gamblers who spend their afternoons frantically feeding coins into the nickel slots. Despite the flash and hype of grandiose jackpots two aisles down, these low-tier players often exit the casino with a prize of little more than chump change.