NEW YORK — Georgia’s lottery players are the biggest suckers in a nation buying more than $50 billion a year in tickets for the state-run games, which have the worst odds of any form of legal gambling.
Players in Georgia, whose per capita income is about 10 percent below the U.S. average, are doing the most damage to their personal finances compared with lottery-playing habits in other states, according to the “Sucker Index” created by Bloomberg Rankings.
While the state had the sixth-highest prize payouts, 63 cents for each dollar spent, consumers there spent the second-highest chunk of their income on the lottery, which funds scholarships and pre-kindergarten.
Of the 43 states with lotteries, 26 had higher sales last fiscal year, helping to make up for lower taxes and federal aid. Governors used the revenue for programs from education to environmental protection. The pot comes disproportionately from lower-income residents, who shelled out a larger percentage of their pay on the games than wealthier people, according to a study in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.
“It’s a pro-rich wealth-redistribution technique in Georgia,” said Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University economics professor and co-author of ” Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America.”
“To link that tax revenue to a benefit that goes largely to middle-and upper-class citizens is a little stunning,” Clotfelter said. “It might even strike one as cynical: You’re taking from those with few means and helping those with more means.”
In 2010, Georgia residents spent an average $470.73, or 1 percent of their personal income, on the lottery, the Sucker Index shows. Only Massachusetts was higher, with spending of $860.70 per adult, more than three times the U.S. average. Georgia had per capita income of $34,800 in 2010, below the national average of $39,945, while Massachusetts’s was higher at $51,302, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Massachusetts players were the biggest lottery winners, getting back almost 72 cents on the dollar, according to Bloomberg data. That state still places second on the Sucker Index because spending as a percentage of personal income is the most, at 1.3 percent.
New York ranked third in the index, followed by Michigan and South Carolina. The lowest scores went to Oklahoma, Washington, South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota.
Bloomberg Rankings created the Sucker Index with 2010 data from the U.S. Census and annual reports from state lottery commissions, which include multi-state games. The total dollar amount of prizes awarded was subtracted from ticket sales, and then the difference was divided by the total personal income of each state’s residents.
Georgia’s lottery law says the state should contribute “as near as practical” to 35 percent of the proceeds to pre- kindergarten and the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarships, which pay full tuition for in-state public and private colleges and technical schools. A share that large was last transferred in 1997, according to a state audit.
Last year, with the lottery-funded programs facing a $300 million deficit and “on the brink of bankruptcy,” Gov. Nathan Deal, R, enacted scholarship changes that raised grades and test scores for eligibility, eliminated funding for books and fees and cut payments for remedial classes. He also cut the pre- kindergarten program to 160 days from 180.
In the fiscal year ended June 30, the Georgia lottery gave 25.3 percent of revenue, or $846.1 million, to education. The percentage of proceeds awarded isn’t as important as the dollar amount, which has been growing, said Tandi Reddick, the game’s media-relations manager in Atlanta. In 1997, the lottery gave 35 percent of revenue, or $581 million, she said.
The Georgia lottery had record sales in the week ended Feb. 11, taking in $101.2 million and surpassing a 2007 record by more than $5 million, Reddick said.
“There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between prizes paid and profits returned,” Reddick said. “If we believed for a moment that the lottery could increase the annual dollar amount returned to education by reducing prize payouts, thereby increasing the percentage return to the HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs, we would not hesitate to do it.”
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, in a 1999 report, found lotteries to be nation’s the most widespread form of gambling, and the type with the longest odds.
Unlike Georgia, with its dedicated stream to education, Massachusetts returns 95 percent of lottery revenue to its municipalities to do with as they wish: $802.2 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. The rest goes to gambling- addiction programs, cultural groups and community services, said Paul Sternburg, director of the lottery.
“We paid over $3.1 billion in prizes last year, so there are a lot of winners out there,” Sternburg said. “If we went any higher, we’d be hurting our net profits.”
Following is a list of states ranked on the “Sucker Index” created by Bloomberg Rankings, using data from 2010:
3 New York
5 South Carolina
6 New Jersey
12 Rhode Island
16 North Carolina
18 New Hampshire
26 West Virginia
31 New Mexico
41 South Dakota
43 North Dakota
The “Sucker Score” is calculated by subtracting the total dollar amount of prizes awarded from the total dollar amount of ticket sales, then dividing the difference by the total personal income of the state’s residents. A higher resulting number, lower prize payout and/or higher per-capita spending on lottery tickets lead to a higher Sucker Score.
Excludes Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming do not have state lotteries.