Between 2010-2014, 4,865 lottery tickets with a prize of $1,000 or more were cashed in by a total of 3,685 welfare recipients that were on the roles at the time of their winnings. This means that nearly one of every four winners of at least $1,000 were receiving your tax dollars in the form of welfare while gambling, with some recipients winning at least $1,000 more than 10 times.
David Just, a behavioral economist and state lottery expert that has studied lotteries in 36 states, estimated that welfare recipients would have had to have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” to win that amount of money.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of money from people on welfare cycling back to the state through the lottery,” said Just, whose research in Maine has shown that lottery sales increase with poverty and unemployment. “But the real story here is how much people had to spend in order to win these amounts.”
Perhaps the worst part is that welfare recipients aren’t always disqualified from continuing to receive benefits in spite of their winnings. According to Sam Adolphsen, chief operating officer for DHHS, “Under current rules, it is hypothetically possible to win a million dollars and stay on food stamps.”
While a similar bill, LD 1375, failed to pass in the Democrat-controlled House in 2015, the continued hard work of conservatives in Augusta finally paid off, with LD 1097 passing unanimously in the Senate and handily in the House this year.
Under the new law that takes effect today, recipients may no longer use your tax dollars on items such as alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets, among other things. Penalties for violators will result in a three-month disqualification of benefits for the first offence, a 12-month disqualification for the second offense and a 24-month disqualification for the third offense.
“Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee made clear early on that real penalties needed to be in place for a ban to be effective,” said Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. “I am glad we were able to get Democrats to agree with us that penalties must be firm.”
“Welfare fraud and abuse is not a victimless crime, and Maine’s taxpayers, and the Mainers who properly use and truly need the safety net, can breathe a little easier knowing there are now further protections from welfare abuse in Maine statute.”
To view a list of legislators who continued to oppose this common-sense reform, click here.