According to The Maine Wire’s investigation into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the answer is, yes!
The Maine Wire obtained three years’ worth of TANF transaction data from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) pursuant to a Freedom of Access Act request. Analysis of that data shows Maine Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards have been used to access welfare cash in Las Vegas and at multiple gambling facilities in New Hampshire.
At Seacoast Bingo LLC in Somersworth, N.H., Maine EBT card users have accessed an ATM 75 times, extracting nearly $4,500 in gambling dough. In 2013 alone, Maine taxpayers have covered $1,660 in bets at the bingo table.
At The Poker Room, located in Hampton Falls, N.H., $140 in welfare cash has been gambled away.
Additional transactions at the Hampton Beach Casino in Hampton, N.H. show $60 taken from an ATM on June 20, 2013.
Further analysis of DHHS records suggests that some welfare recipients are spending their cash welfare allotment on lottery scratch tickets. Though the state classifies such transactions as improper, and many store owners refuse to process such transactions, EBT cards can technically be used to buy scratchers.
To see whether welfare cash has been spent on scratch tickets, one must simply look at the number of round-dollar transactions, such as $1.00, $2.00, and $5.00, relative to non-round dollar transactions, such as $1.99, $2.57, and $5.15. Round-dollar transactions, due to the pricing of lottery tickets, could potential be purchases of lottery tickets.
If round dollar and non-round dollar transactions occur at the same frequency, then the data does not suggest lottery ticket purchases. However, if round-dollar transactions are more common than non-round dollar transactions, the data does suggest lottery ticket purchases.
So, according to the data, what occurs more often: $1.99 purchases not likely to include lottery tickets, or a high volume of $3.00, $5.00, etc., round transactions suggestive of lottery ticket purchases?
According to the above graph, round dollar transactions occur at a significantly higher rate than non-round dollar transactions, suggesting EBT cards have in fact been used to purchase lottery tickets. (Note: This graph does not include $10.00 or $20.00 amounts. Although transactions at these values may reflect scratch ticket purchases, they also equal common bank-related transactions that cannot possibly involve lottery tickets.)
Ultimately, it’s impossible to say with certainty that the pattern demonstrated above shows that a large volume of welfare cash has been spent on lottery tickets. But now that the data is available online (here), taxpayers can judge for themselves.
All of these gambling-related transactions include only instances where a welfare recipient swiped their EBT card at a gambling facility or for a transaction that could involve lottery tickets. This information does not include instances where a welfare recipient withdrew cash from an ATM and subsequently engaged in taxpayer-funded gambling activities at one of Maine’s casinos. Just as it is possible that an EBT cardholder withdraw cash at the bingo hall and later bought diapers, it is possible that welfare cash withdrawn at a Walmart was later used for gambling.
The Maine Wire’s exclusive investigation into TANF abuse also uncovered Maine welfare cash has been spent in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cash welfare has also been accessed at numerous liquor stores, bars, cigarette shops, strip clubs and amusement parks.
Editor, Maine Wire