April 24, 2014

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Ohio Lottery drops support of Scripps spelling bee


Despite record sales, the Ohio Lottery has stopped paying the $115 registration fees for schools taking part in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which includes participants in the Educational Service Center of Lorain County/Chronicle-Telegram Spelling Bee.

Last month, the lottery announced sales of $2.73 billion, the 11th straight year of record sales. A record $771 million was transferred to the Lottery Profits Education Fund, the largest contribution since a $748 million contribution in 1997.

Annual lottery revenue increased from about $2.63 billion in 2010-11 to some $2.7 billion in the last fiscal year.

Lottery officials cited budget cuts for the reason the agency stopped contributing about $178,000 annually for the spelling bee fees — something it has done since 2008.

Lottery spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb said the lottery’s annual sponsorship budget for programs like the spelling bee was cut from $1.7 million in the last fiscal year to $1.5 million in the current one. The budget covers events like the Ohio State Fair and programs like Partners in Education, which salutes students and teachers who excel in education.

Frizzi-Babb wrote in an email that lottery officials chose to fund the Ohio for Responsive Gambling group, which helps gambling addicts, rather than spelling bees.

“There was a need to dedicate more dollars to responsible gambling initiatives,” she said, adding that the lottery is the sole funder of the group and it will need more help with casinos opening.

Frizzi-Babb said in an interview that the state, which operates on two-year budgets, has cut the lottery budget to the 2008 level.

“We did have a record year this year, but this budget was set nearly a year and a half ago,” she said.

Jim Hartline, project coordinator for the Education Service Center of Lorain County, said he plans to write Ohio Lottery Commission members asking them to reconsider.

“Gambling in Ohio is on the increase, so I don’t understand that they’ve got a financial problem and can’t afford to do this,” said Hartline, who oversees running the county spelling bee. “I don’t know that it costs them that much to do it in the first place.”

Hartline said the center relies on donations from local groups — The Chronicle provides in-kind services — to help pay the $1,000 enrollment for the national bee and $7,000 to $8,000 needed to run the local bee. The center covers the approximately $3,000 to $4,000 cost of sending the local bee winner and a parent to Washington, D.C., for the national bee.

About 100 seventh- and eighth-graders participate in the local bee annually. The bees — a series leading up to a finale — will be March 8, 15 and 23. The national bee is May 30 and 31.

With schools facing projected deficits due to state tax cuts and less local taxpayer money, Hartline said some may reconsider paying for students to take part. Besides the fees, schools pay stipends to teachers to coach participants.

“Schools are doing everything they can to cut corners,” he said. “This is something they don’t have to participate in.”

Hartline said he recognizes that gambling addiction is a serious problem. However, he said he finds it ironic that money is needed for gambling addicts when critics say the lottery exacerbates addiction with more advertising and games.

Hartline said cutting fee payments contradicts the lottery’s stated mission of educating children through its games.

“If you know anything about spellers, it’s that they’re the top of the academic bunch,” he said. “They should be encouraged to participate.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.