Despite the optimistic outlook of proponents for the Oklahoma horse racing industry with the passage of SQ 712, Remington Park, the state’s premier racing track, was sold less than five years later by its bankrupt Canadian owners, the largest horse track company in America. The purchaser? Global Gaming Solutions, a commercial enterprise of the Chickasaw Nation, which by the 2020s also owned the largest casino in the world.
By 2012, school officials themselves were ambivalent regarding the economic benefits to education of the lottery. According to the Tulsa World, the median annual amount distributed to individual school districts was $19,000.
Tulsa Public Schools treasurer Joe Stoeppelwerth said the lottery was financing 44 to 48 Tulsa teachers’ salaries. The $1.8 million the state’s largest school district annually received that year, however, was “a bit of a disappointment,” he said. “This amount is about half of what was projected when the lottery passed.”
By 2013, SoonerPoll, a non-partisan Oklahoma political polling organization, reported:
“Since its final passage in 2004 under Democrat Governor Brad Henry, the lottery has continued to underperform expectations. It has never met the projections pushed by proponents more than a decade ago, and ranks toward the bottom with other lottery states in the amount of revenue generated and per capita spending.”
Even so, Lottery Commission officials were simultaneously urging a reduction in the 35% percentage of proceeds guaranteed to Oklahoma public education. They hoped to increase prize money, draw more participants, and ultimately increase revenues directed to education. Otherwise, officials said, already disappointing lottery proceeds for education would get worse, not better.
Henry agreed, blaming legislatures now controlled by Republicans for their refusal to lower the 35% education share of the lottery “restriction.” In 2017, one of those legislatures indeed removed the 35% provision and reduced the state’s cut of lottery proceeds to 30%. Whether or not that indeed proved the remedy to disappointing lottery revenues should be clear by the time you read this book.
“Not a Game-Changer”
“Oklahomans were promised that the lottery would bring in $150 million a year for education,” Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew C. Spiropoulos said. “The opponents of the lottery, looking at the experience of other states, argued that we would be lucky if it brought in half that amount. The lottery, in fact, has never brought in even that much.”
Lottery officials responded that the practice was never meant to fix Oklahoma education, only to help it.
By 2014, the state’s largest newspaper, a passionate advocate of the gaming bills a decade before, was now lamenting that the “disappointing” lottery “may provide some funding for education, but it will never be a major factor in school financing.” It also chided former Gov. Henry:
“First as a state senator, then as a governor, Brad Henry was the lottery’s most visible proponent. He’s also responsible for some of the inflated figures associated with the lottery. As a senator, Henry suggested the lottery would generate up to $500 million annually for schools. As a governor, he said it could raise $300 million.”
“It is not a game-changer, it is not even really a drop in the bucket,” said Republican state senator and future Oklahoma City mayor David Holt in 2014, a decade after voters approved it. Holt was not opposed to the lottery, but he lamented that its benefits to schools did not offset the social carnage inflicted on Oklahoma lives by the state’s massive gambling industry.
By 2018, public school teachers were striking and overall state funding of education had nosedived. A series of economic challenges the previous decade in the state contributed to this, as well as the legislature’s thankless attempts to stretch budget dollars across a multitude of important programs. Unwise behavior not on the part of teachers or legislators, but by the general population fueled many of the latter, including mental health, prisons, rehabilitation programs, and the protection of children.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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