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Dallas NAACP wants to shut down Texas lottery

The Dallas NAACP chapter wants the Texas lottery to close up shop.

Members of the nation's oldest civil-rights group say they are frustrated by poor and minority Texans spending their money on tickets instead of necessities such as rent or health insurance, and they believe that the lottery isn't putting enough money into public education in the state.

So they unanimously voted this month to encourage state officials to end the lottery.

"People with very little money are spending their money on the lottery," said Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "This has been bothering us for a while."

She notes stories such as the one about a man who chose to use his limited dollars to buy lottery tickets, hoping to hit it big, rather than buy health insurance.

"He's dead," she said.

"People oftentimes make decisions not in their best interests," Wallace said. "We have to look out for those people."

Before the vote, she said, members talked for months about how they believe the lottery fails to fund public schools adequately, as well as how many poor Texans are buying tickets.

Next, she said, Dallas NAACP members hope to meet with like-minded members of other branches at the national NAACP conference in Houston on July 7-12 and find a way to move forward.

The Texas Lottery Commission is among the state agencies that the Sunset Advisory Commission is reviewing to determine whether they should keep operating or shut down. State lawmakers will review the panel's recommendations when they reconvene next year.

Wallace said she hopes legislators will decide to close the lottery commission.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that would be a bad move for Texas.

"I believe the lottery continues to be a good and popular way to help fund education," said Ellis, who has proposed a number of lottery-related bills. "Lord knows we need to be looking for ways to find more money for our schools, not taking it away."

The first Texas lottery ticket was sold in 1992 -- after state lawmakers and Texas voters signed off on creating the lottery in 1991 -- and the program has generated more than $20 billion for the state, state records show.

Before 1997, lottery proceeds went into the state's general revenue fund. Since then, they have gone to the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency, according to the Lottery Commission.

Overall, the lottery has contributed more than $14 billion to the school fund -- nearly $1 billion in fiscal 2011, according to commission records.

Sixty-three percent of lottery proceeds go to prizes, 25 percent to the school fund, 5 percent to retailer commissions, 5 percent to lottery administration and 2 percent to other state programs, such as unclaimed prizes that go to programs approved by the Legislature, according to the commission.

"We are committed to our role in generating revenue and will continue our mission to increase sales and to support public education funding in Texas," commission spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, declined Tuesday to comment until he talks to Dallas NAACP members.

Many groups are weighing in on the Texas lottery. Delegates at the state Republican convention in Fort Worth this month included the lottery in the party platform.

"We oppose the expansion of legalized gambling and encourage the repeal of the Texas State lottery," the document stated. "We oppose dedicating any government revenue from gambling to create or expand any government program."

But the document that might hold the most weight is the sunset commission's report, released this month, that acknowledges that the lottery commission "walks a tightrope in balancing the many contradictions in the state's attitudes about gaming" and recommends that it be continued for 12 more years.

"The agency is charged with operating the lottery, much like a business, to generate revenue for the state through gaming, but must remain mindful of gaming's many vocal opponents in Texas," the report says.

Lottery sales have leveled off, prompting the commission to be innovative in creating and marketing new games -- but at the same time working to "not unduly influence anyone to buy a lottery ticket," the report says.

The report, notes that bingo -- which is regulated by the Lottery Commission -- "justifies the need for regulation" and is "a complex, cash-based enterprise with very real opportunities for fraud."

Despite these and other challenges, "the commission successfully balances the various demands placed on it," the report says.

The report includes several recommendations, such as expanding the lottery commission's part-time board from three members to five, and letting the board consider more of the business of running the lottery, as opposed to leaving the bulk of the decisions -- including contract approval -- to the executive director. Other recommendations touched on ways to better share contract information, to analyze the effectiveness of lottery strategy and to improve the commission's complaint process.

"For more than 20 years, the Texas Lottery Commission has both operated the Texas lottery and regulated charitable bingo, and the need for those functions continues," the report states. "Texans spend up to $4 billion on lottery tickets and $700 million on bingo games each year, showing their continued interest in the games.

"Revenue from the lottery and bingo continue to be important to the State, local governments, and charitable organizations. The lottery provides about $1 billion each year to the Foundation School Fund, while each year bingo provides about $28 million to the State and local governments and another $34 million to charities. Without lottery and bingo games, these entities would have to find other sources of revenue."

The Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has long been concerned about the Texas lottery and has constantly sought to keep officials from expanding the operation.

But this year, for the first time, the group made a request similar to the Dallas NAACP's -- that state officials end the lottery once and for all.

"This is the first time we came out and said 'Let's end it,'" said Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Dallas-based Christian Life Commission. "We were told this would be a voluntary tax and wouldn't prey on the poor, and that's not the case. ..."

"It's bad public policy and the Legislature ought to sunset it."

Wallace said it's time to educate Texans.

"We've been talking about this and talking about this," she said. "There was nothing left to do but take a stand.

"The people who created the lottery are the winners. Not the other ones."