The Oklahoma Lottery, since being proposed in the 1990s, has been highly controversial in the state of Oklahoma.  So, it’s probably no surprise that public opinion regarding the Oklahoma lottery will probably be controversial as well.

What’s interesting is favorability of the lottery has started to change.

SoonerPoll began polling the lottery in 2009 when public opinion was equally divided and, interestingly, the undecided were at its lowest point. Since then, it appears those once unfavorable slowly become undecided in their opinion and favorability has slowly risen. Today, those favorable toward the lottery hold a fragile majority, a first for either side, with unfavorabilty constantly trending lower.

So, the question is why?

David Blatt, Director of the left-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute and a lottery supporter, says “the survey seems to suggest that the lottery has become more popular, although it’s hard to tell whether this is a momentary spike in support or a sign of an enduring trend.”

One critic of the lottery believes the steady increase of favorability is a function of money and marketing.

“It’s not hard to see why the lottery is popular,” said Brandon Dutcher, Vice President of Policy for the right-leaning Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “You’ve got this enterprise with a huge marketing budget, plus constant earned media, most of it favorable and often tinged with excitement. The lottery bureaucrats don’t issue press releases about the guy who gambles away the grocery money.”

Since its final passage in 2004 under Democrat Governor Brad Henry, the lottery has continued to under-performed 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.

Just last October, however, lottery officials did announce that it has raised more than half a billion dollars for education since the first scratch-off tickets were sold in the state more than seven years ago. But, officials believe one key change could help move the lottery toward meeting those expectations.

Lottery officials have been lobbying that a requirement that 35 percent of its profits go to education has hurt sales.

The theory goes like this: easing the 35 percent requirement would allow the lottery commission to put more money into prize payouts, which would, in turn, generate more sales.  So while the percentage take to education would decrease, the actual dollar amount would increase.

Conservatives and lottery critics, especially, could have a difficult time arguing against this theory, considering they use it themselves in arguing for tax cuts; the concept that lower tax rates generate more tax revenues.

Lottery officials have even pointed to other states as examples where cutting the requirement has generated more revenue for public education.

Regardless of the final decision, the harsh reality is this:  Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. Oklahoma’s gross lottery revenue of about $198 million during fiscal year 2011 placed us 10th from the bottom, according to GamblingCompliance. On a per capita basis Oklahoma was third-to-last, ahead of only Montana and North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Oklahomans have slowly come to favor the state’s lottery.

About the Poll

SoonerPoll.com conducted the random-sample, scientific survey from May 22 through June 12, using live telephone interviewers. Of the 402 respondents who participated, 108 were contacted by cell phone and 295 by land line. The combined results have been weighted to adjust for variation in the sample relating to age, sex and political party. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. For smaller subgroups, the margin of sampling error is larger.

This poll conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls. A complete description of the methodology can be found here.

The full Call Dispositions and Rate Calculations were calculated by SoonerPoll.com and is available here.

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