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Lottery Legend Has Seen A Lot Of Winning Tickets

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Life took a dramatic turn last week for 16 co-workers from a New Jersey town hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. The employees of a government garage in Ocean County reportedly have one of three winning tickets in the $448 million Powerball jackpot announced Wednesday.

Will their lives change for the better? Or will they end up like many lottery winners, losing the money, their relationships and their sense of self?

Ask Rebecca Paul Hargrove. She's a lottery legend, but not because she hit a big jackpot. Hargrove is president and CEO of the Tennessee Education State Lottery Corporation, and before that, she launched the lotteries in Florida and Georgia in the 1980s and '90s.

"I've met hundreds of winners in my almost-30 years in the business, and what I've found is people really don't change much," Hargrove tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin from her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. "If they were unhappy before they won, they're still unhappy. If they saved money before they won they still save money."

They pay off bills, buy a house and a car, perhaps take a grand vacation. But most, she says, "they say to me, the best thing about winning is security for their children's future."

Interview Highlights

Do lotteries prey on lower income people who can't really afford to play week after week?

"I think that is one of the myths that has been perpetrated year after year, after year, after year. Let's just take Tennessee. We did close to $1.4 billion last year. There are about 6 million people in the state. And you take the number of people over the age of 18 and divide it into a billion four, and it just can't be poor people who are buying. The numbers don't work. People from all walks of life buy tickets."

Why do lotteries have such universal appeal?

"The last Gallup poll I read said that 76 percent of the population of the United States thought a lottery was a responsible way to raise needed revenue, as opposed to raising your taxes. And it's a fun way to raise those needed revenues."

In many states the money is earmarked for education. Is that how it gets spent?

"In the states where it goes to education, absolutely. But it funds different types of education. In Illinois, the common school fund when to K-12 education. And sometimes, as has been the case in other states where dollars went to K-12 education, they became replacement dollars, rather than enhancement dollars.

"In 1992, when then-governor Zell Miller ran for governor, he wanted to bring a lottery to Georgia that made a difference. That was the beginning of what is now very famous, and that's Hope Scholarships. You graduate from a Georgia high school with a B average, and the lottery pays your way to school, tuition, books and fees. So when Tennessee started their lottery 10 years ago, and they saw what a difference it made in higher education in Georgia, they copied the Georgia model. So it's pretty special."

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