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How legislators want to use lotto games to support veterans programs
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A Georgia Senate study committee is recommending that new scratch-off lottery tickets be created with proceeds directed to support programs and services for military veterans.

“That, in itself, is a great idea,” said Johnny Varner, a Hall County resident who retired from the Army in 2006 after 20 years in the military.

Varner now works to connect veterans and others in need with steady work through the Goodwill Career Center in Oakwood.

And his longtime leadership in a local American Legion chapter has kept Varner close to the educational, financial and medical needs of veterans.

Six states offer lottery games that raise money for veterans’ services, such as job training, housing assistance, mental health counseling and meal programs for the disabled.

2018 marked the 25th anniversary of the Georgia Lottery Corporation, which was established under the leadership of former governor Zell Miller.

According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the lottery has generated billions of dollars in revenue from scratch-and-win prizes at convenience stores, as well as money-ball drawings on live television for huge cash winnings.

About a quarter of lottery sales proceeds support public education, most notably, the HOPE scholarship and grants, paving the way for affordable college and university studies for in-state students.

The remaining revenue covers overhead, payouts to winners or is put into a reserve fund.

GBPI reports that the state legislature “appropriated $367 million from the lottery in the 2019 state budget for pre-Kindergarten and $808 million for HOPE scholarships and grants, totaling $1.2 billion.”

Varner said Georgia is a great place for veterans to live and work because of the state’s strong job market, high quality of life and lower cost of living when compared with other states and regions of the country.

Legislation to expand the state’s lottery to support veterans has been on the table since 2013, the Senate committee reports, but no action or concrete legislation has yet materialized.  

Similar legislation has failed in recent years in other states, such as Florida, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, according to the Senate committee. 

Critics say lotteries are unpredictable funding sources for valuable social service programs, and are typically funded by lower-income individuals who play at a higher rate than those with more wealth.

But support for veterans is typically a winning political cause on both sides of the aisle, and lottery funds supporting vets could help draw them to Georgia.

“How do we bring them in?” Varner asked. “Veterans are model citizens.”

Though service needs are profound for some veterans, in comparison to their civilian counterparts, Varner said, veterans are less likely to be on welfare and have higher educational achievement.

These virtues, Varner added, means “we need to start bringing in quality (veterans) from other states.”

If lawmakers approve the Senate committee’s recommendations, proceeds from the new lottery games would be transferred to the state Department of Veterans Service, which would administer and distribute funding to qualified service agencies.