Every audience member at a recording of The Ellen DeGeneres Show on December 2 was delighted to go home with a $500 bundle of scratch-off tickets, courtesy of the California State Lottery (CSL).
The Lottery hoped the stunt would promote the idea of buying scratch-offs as gifts in the run-up to Christmas. But it has led to accusations of misuse of funds.
Meanwhile, whistleblowers among lottery staff have said that some of the giftpacks were not given to audience members at all and remain unaccounted for, according to The Los Angeles Times.
In a video uploaded December 24, YouTube personality Colleen Ballinger tells her followers that a friend connected with the show had given her $500 worth of scratch-offs.
CSL spokesperson Russ Lopez told the Times that the positive exposure gained from the stunt vastly outweighed the cost of giving away the tickets.
He said total “media value” was around $1.6 million for an outlay of $212,500 in tickets.
But State Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) believes such things are unquantifiable and that the show’s producers should have paid CSL for the tickets. Chang is concerned money that should be going to fund public schools is being mismanaged through “wasteful spending” and “nepotism.”
Shenanigans at Lottery HQ
In June, CSL Director Hugo Lopez resigned after his organization caught the attention of the Department of Justice and the State Controller’s Office.
The DOJ was asked to investigate CSL by former governor Jerry Brown after the Governor’s Office received an anonymous letter accusing lottery executives of inappropriate behavior and favoritism when hiring and promoting staff.
An audit conducted by State Controller Betty Yee found that CSL employees had misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, food and accommodation at conferences.
When California voters approved the lottery by public referendum in 1984, they were told 34 percent of revenues would go to education.
In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to amend the California State Lottery Act that allowed “the commission to establish the percentage to be allocated to the benefit of public education at a level that maximizes the total net revenues allocated to the benefit of public education.”
Since 2010, annual revenue has grown from less than $3 billion to more than $7 billion. But there is a perception that CSL has become less accountable.
In a statement on her website, Chang notes that funding to schools has remained flat, while revenues for the lottery have skyrocketed.
“The lottery was created to fund schools and nothing more,” Chang said. “… Every dollar wasted at the California State Lottery is another dollar taken away from students and from our public schools.”