Ballot proposal calls for Missouri Lottery scratch-off ticket to aid veterans

Sales from Missouri Lottery tickets have raised billions of dollars for education programs since proceeds were directed to education-only programs two decades ago. But next month, voters will be asked to change those rules so money can be shared with veterans groups.

The lottery has raised more than $4.5 billion since it was created nearly 30 years ago. Since 1994, that money has exclusively been designated for education.

But on Aug. 5, Amendment 8 will ask voters to create a veterans lottery scratch-off ticket whose net proceeds would be used to improve veterans homes and cemeteries in Missouri. Lottery officials haven't estimated how much the tickets may generate. Supporters say it's a good way to support aging veterans, but critics argue that a better funding source should be found and fear the change could take money away from public schools.

Several states already allocate some lottery revenue to veterans, including three of Missouri's neighbors — Kansas, Iowa and Illinois — along with Texas and West Virginia. Illinois, Iowa and Kansas have raised between $10 million and $13 million each for veterans through their tickets, according to a May legislative research report in Connecticut, where a veterans lottery ticket is being considered.

Texas Lottery Commission spokesman Kelly Cripe said that since the Veterans Cash game launched in 2009, more than $36.5 million has been transferred to the Fund for Veterans Assistance.

The Missouri Constitution currently designates lottery proceeds strictly to education. Rep. Sheila Solon, who sponsored the measure creating the proposed amendment, said the change could help fund an additional home for retired veterans, provide for improvements and better up-keep at veterans cemeteries, and fund other services. Missouri's existing seven veterans homes have a combined 1,350 beds and a waiting list of 1,690, Solon said. It takes, on average, nine months to get in.

"That list is only going to get longer with the veterans from the Vietnam War who are aging," said Solon, a Republican from the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs.

The Missouri Lottery has raised more than $4.5 billion for education since 1987, according to the division's website. Starting in 1992, all lottery proceeds were designated strictly to education.

Some opponents worry that a veterans ticket would potentially take money away from public schools at a time when some school districts are already struggling with financial and performance problems. Other critics say it is unfair to veterans to hope that purchases of lottery tickets provide money to support them.

"We are not funding our commitments to veterans the way we should be," said Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat. "Now we have some idea that the lottery is going to save our commitment. Instead of trying to use these schemes, we should have proper tax policy and fund things that are important."

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, said the lottery is an inefficient and unpredictable money source.

"The best way to fund veteran services is through the general revenue fund," LaFaver said. "Unless we do it that way, we're never going to get to the point where we're funding veterans to the level they truly deserve."

Solon said the lottery ticket won't take away from other funding. She does not believe it will hurt education funding because it may draw new customers to the lottery.

"What the other states have told me is it kind of rejuvenates the program," Solon said. "My husband is a veteran and he does not buy lottery tickets, but he would buy a veterans lottery ticket."

Education groups that include the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri School Boards' Association are not taking a public position on the ballot measure, but several veterans groups support it.