As It Appeared in the
San Antonio Express News

Without the poor, the commission would sink ...

Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2005

Comments in blue italics were made by the Lotto Report.

Ken Rodriguez:
Lottery's big spenders are those with
the fewest dollars to lose

Web Posted: 04/03/2005 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

Democratic State Rep. Robert Puente buys an occasional lottery ticket. His South Side constituents purchase them often and in bunches, like no one else in town.

"When I go to buy gas," he says, "I see a line of hard-working people spending a good chunk of money on lottery tickets. People of modest means are trying to hit the jackpot."

Puente represents 88 percent of those living in ZIP code 78223 — a unique set of residents.

According to data obtained from the Texas Lottery Commission, 78223 residents spent more money on lottery tickets in fiscal year 2004 than any other local ZIP code: $10,897,050.50.

According to 2000 Census Data, the median household income in 78223 is only $30,145.

For years, the Texas Lottery Commission has maintained that its games do not attract a disproportionate share of low-income residents. For years, the commission has lied. The commission's own sales numbers reveal the truth.

In ZIP code 78258 on the far North Side, the median income is $91,509. Lottery sales in the affluent Stone Oak neighborhood totaled $1,476,384 last year — a fraction of the amount sold at South Side outlets in Puente's district.

Lottery sales were even lower in other North Side neighborhoods. For example, residents in ZIP code 78248 — between Shavano Park and Hollywood Park — spent only $343,545. The median income there is $90,014.

Generally speaking, the more money you make in San Antonio, the fewer lottery dollars you are likely to spend. The less you make, the more lottery dollars you're likely to spend.

"It's sad," says Puente, an adoption lawyer. "It's not surprising."

It's not surprising that the lottery commission does not post the truth on its Web site.

(That's right. For instance, right now (April 2005) we're in a comment period regarding increasing the odds to 175.7 million-to-one for the Mega Millions game. After I requested that they post a comment form, they did. But ... it's not highly visible - you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page - which few people do - then it's under "Mega Millions." In their description of the proposed rule, they fail to disclose the enormous change in odds - the most important factor and the one thing the People of Texas do NOT want. How's that for being honest and forthright with the People of Texas?)

The commission makes 7 cents off of every lottery dollar spent. In 2004, the commission's cut from San Antonio sales was $9.8 million.

If you want detailed lottery data, you must file a public information request with the commission, which I did.

News Researchers Kelly Guckian and Julie Domel sorted the data by ZIP code and compared it with median household incomes from the 2000 Census.

Two telling sets of numbers:

The four city ZIP codes with the most lottery dollars spent had household incomes ranging from $26,522 to $35,324.

The four ZIP codes with the fewest lottery dollars spent had household incomes ranging from $49,659 to $87,621.

Earlier this year, Texas Tech University released a demographic study that mirrored these results: Texans who earned the least spent more per player on the lottery than those in the highest income groups.

This finding all but sent the lottery commission into shock. There should have been no surprise.

If the commission had analyzed its own sales data, it would not have been blindsided by the Tech study.

(I'm not going to believe the worst and suggest commissioners knew the truth and feigned surprise, but if you want to, go right ahead.)

The commission has asked Tech to review some minor details of the study. If errors are found, commissioners concede the errors might have minimal impact. But they also say that any errors, however small, would call the study's credibility into question.

In short, if an undotted "i" or an uncrossed "t" is spotted, don't be surprised if the study is denounced.

For now, at least, the lottery commission does not dispute the ZIP code data reported in this column.

"If that's what those numbers reflect," says commission spokesman Bobby Heith, "then I'm sure that's the way it is."

Puente knows the way it is. In 78233, near Brooks AFB and Braunig Lake, his constituents work hard, sometimes holding two jobs, and dream big.

"As I'm paying for gas, which costs $2 a gallon, the person in front of me buys $5 worth of gas and $5 worth of lottery tickets," Puente says. "That individual can't fill up his gas tank and lives week to week on his paycheck."

The commission loves the working class. It made more than half a million dollars off 78223, but less than 10 grand off the more affluent 78256. Without the poor, the commission would sink.

To contact Ken Rodriguez, call (210) 250-3369 or e-mail


The Lotto Report
Dawn Nettles
P. O. Box 495033
Garland, Texas 75049-5033
(972) 686-0660
(972) 681-1048 Fax

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