Virginia Lottery announces record profits, critic says low-income communities disproportionately hurt

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Last month, the Virginia Lottery announced record sales and profits for Fiscal Year 2023 — from July 1, 2022, to June 31, 2023. That means more money going toward K-12 education in the commonwealth.

The numbers show in FY2023, lottery sales hit a record $4.6 billion, with profits coming in at $867 million.

At the time of the announcement Kelly Gee — who has since been appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin to serve as Secretary of the Commonwealth — was Virginia Lottery’s Executive Director.

“The unprecedented success we saw in Fiscal Year 2023 is positive news for all Virginians, regardless of whether they choose to play Lottery games,” Gee said.

However, not everyone sees these increases as a positive. Les Bernal, National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a non-profit organization that “[works] to reveal the truth behind commercialized gambling,” says state lotteries disproportionately affect low-income people.

“Poor folks are playing these games because they think this is the best chance to change their financial future,” Bernal said. “It’s a hail mary investment strategy that is mathematically stacked against them so, at the end of the day, they are going to end up losing everything.”

Bernal’s opinion is backed by a 2022 investigation by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.

The study found that “stores that sell tickets are disproportionately clustered in lower-income communities in nearly every state.”

RELATED: Virginia sports betters wager over $293.6 million in one month

8News asked Bernal about the fact that lottery profits fund education in Virginia.

“The finest education isn’t worth it if it causes misery and financial suffering across the state for hundreds of thousands of citizens,” Bernal responded.

8News reached out to several school districts across Virginia to ask specifically what they do with the money they receive from the state lottery. Only Richmond City Public Schools responded.

“The majority of lottery funding supports our operating budget and the daily activities of the school division,” a spokesperson with the division said. “The three largest amounts in the category are: at-risk, K-3 class size reduction, and infrastructure & operations per pupil allocation. Of these three categories, K-3 class size reduction specifically targets reducing pupil-teacher ratios at certain elementary schools.”

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