Report says $1.2 billion a lot of $$

The Texas Lottery generated $1.2 billion last year for public education and veterans programs.

A legislative committee named to study the lottery has concluded that $1.2 billion would be hard to replace in the $46.6 billion-a-year general-revenue budget, so the state should not do away with the lottery.

As the saying goes, that’s not rocket science. A billion-two is nobody’s pocket change.

The lottery was approved 2-1 by Texas voters in a 1991 election. Gov. Ann Richards bought the first scratch-off ticket on May 29, 1992.

Texans have grown pretty used to it in 22 years.

Still, there are those who argue strongly against it. The committee’s work — which included only one public meeting — probably won’t do much to change that.

Some critics say the state should not be operating a gambling enterprise, whereas others say the lottery takes its revenue primarily from poorer Texans.

Two committee members — Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land — submitted a letter suggesting that the state study licensing the lottery operation to a private contractor while continuing to regulate it.

Criticism about victimizing the poor resonated with other committee members.

The committee report suggested that the Texas Lottery Commission study its sales by ZIP code to learn more about player demographics.

It also recommended an external study of advertising expenditures to ensure that advertising is not aimed at any particular demographic.

But the committee report was definitive on only one thing: $1.2 billion is a lot of money and would be sorely missed.

Since its inception, the lottery has contributed more than $17 billion for public schools, including more than $1 billion a year for the past decade.

There has long been debate about whether that has meant more money for education or whether lawmakers have simply used it to replace money taken for use elsewhere.

The state devotes about $17 billion a year from the General Revenue Fund toward public education, including the dedicated lottery proceeds.

Education proponents have raised loud complaints since 2011, when lawmakers cut school spending sharply in a budget crisis.

An additional $1.2 billion would be a big bite.