LITTLE ROCK — When the jackpot approaches a billion dollars a lot of people go out and buy lottery tickets, even though normally they hardly pay any attention to the lottery.
Those occasions are good news for Arkansas college students, because the state will collect more money than usual for lottery scholarships.
For example, ticket sales in September were higher than average for the Arkansas Office of the Lottery. Revenue for the month was $47 million, compared to $43 million in September of 2022.
Lottery officials attribute the spike in sales to a Powerball jackpot of about a billion dollars. It generated interest among people who don’t routinely purchase lottery tickets.
Since Arkansas voters approved the lottery in a statewide election in 2008, it has generated about $1.3 billion for scholarships, and more than 720,000 scholarships have been awarded. Stores that sell tickets have earned $395 million in retailer commissions.
Last year the lottery generated $114.7 million for scholarships.
This year it will raise an estimated $110.7 million, but that amount could grow if people are motivated to buy tickets because of enormous jackpots in the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries. For the first three months of the current fiscal year, the lottery has generated $30.3 million for scholarships.
The Academic Challenge Scholarship is the single largest program financed by sales of lottery tickets, although they also fund other smaller scholarship programs. The annual deadline for applications for Academic Challenge scholarships is July 1.
This year about 27,000 students are receiving the Academic Challenge Scholarship, an increase from 26,000 who received it last year.
Students at four-year institutions must maintain a 2.5 grade point average to keep the Academic Challenge scholarships. They must complete 27 semester hours their first year and 30 semester hours in following years.
Their freshman year they receive $1,000. In their sophomore and junior years they get $4,000 and their senior year they get $5,000. If a student doesn’t need 15 hours to graduate in his or her senior year, the scholarship amount is prorated according to the number of hours taken.
Students at two-year colleges receive $1,000 their first year and $3,000 their second year. They can get $1,500 for a fifth or final semester.
The approved institutions are private and publicly supported schools in Arkansas.
Earlier this year the legislature created the Challenge Plus Scholarship Program. To qualify a student has to meet the academic requirements of the Academic Challenge Scholarship, and also demonstrate a financial need. Those students can receive additional awards of $1,000 to $4,000 a year.
According to the web site of the Arkansas Lottery, the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are one in 292,201,338.
The web site also has hotlines to call if you think you may have a gambling addiction. Here are questions that should raise a red flag: Have you gambled for longer than you had planned? Have you used your savings to gamble? Have you borrowed money to gamble?
If you have a gambling problem you can call 1-800-522-4700.
The constitutional amendment that created lottery scholarship program was not placed on the ballot by the legislature but was initiated by citizens’ groups. In the 2008 election it passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 648,122 in favor and 383,467 against.