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Addabbo answers state lottery cash questions

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Lottery money has funded education in the state since the late 1960s, but some residents still question just how much cash the schools actually see.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) recently set out to address some of those questions and explain exactly how lottery money is doled out to state and city schools.

“The lottery provides substantial resources for public education throughout New York — for example, providing almost $3 billion in school aid in the 2011-2012 fiscal year,” said Addabbo, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “If we didn’t have money from lottery or gaming profits, we would need to raise taxes, cut important state services or otherwise find ways to replace the funds that go to New York’s schools. In the last two fiscal years, lottery revenues have provided much assistance in helping to fund education.”

Addabbo said the most common point of confusion among his constituents about the lottery money is that it is not a supplement to state education aid but rather a part of the entire funding package.

According to the senator, the amount of money distributed to schools annually is allocated through a formula that takes into account school district size, wealth and other factors. He said the state budget contains an estimate of lottery revenues to be spent in that fiscal year and, if those revenues exceed the estimate in one fiscal year, the excess dollars are applied to the next year’s state education package.

Funding to city schools is then directed by the mayor.

The decision to raise and use lottery dollars for public education, which required statewide voter approval through a ballot referendum, was included in the state constitution beginning in 1967.

“After paying out prizes to lottery winners, commissions to businesses that sell winning tickets and some administrative costs, the remaining dollars go to education,” he said. “For example, out of the $8.14 billion in lottery sales generated last year, $2.9 billion went to education — about 15 percent of the total education budget.”

The senator did say he understands the concerns of people who find it difficult to justify funding education with money that is essentially generated by gambling. He said this delicate balance is something lawmakers need to thoughtfully address.

“Without lottery dollars, schools throughout New York would likely be in even more serious financial straits, and gaming is an important part of our state’s economy — providing jobs, entertainment and significant revenues,” said Addabbo, who is also a member of the state Gaming and Wagering Committee. “We still must deal with the issues of gambling addictions, the possibility of increased crime and other ramifications from gaming operations. However, with careful planning and forethought, I think we can continue to gain benefits from the lottery and other gaming in New York while addressing potential negative outcomes.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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