LITTLE ROCK — State higher education officials announced Monday that more than 10,000 high school seniors will receive lottery-funded college scholarships for the fall semester under the program’s new system of tiered scholarship amounts.
Also Monday, the state lottery director said ticket sales are rebounding after last year’s slump and said possible changes to the multi-state Mega Millions game could give sales another shot in the arm.
The state Department of Higher Education said it sent notifications Monday to more than 10,000 new recipients of the lottery-funded Academic Challenge Scholarship. Under a law enacted by the Legislature this year, the scholarships for new recipients attending four-year schools will be $2,000 for freshmen, $3,000 for sophomores, $4,000 for juniors and $5,000 for seniors. Students attending two-year school will receive $2,000 for both their freshman and sophomore years.
Students already in the scholarship program will receive the same amounts they received for the current school year.
The Legislature created the tiered system to prevent the lottery’s obligations from exceeding revenues and as an incentive for students to stay in school and complete their degrees.
The department said Monday it still has more than 6,000 incomplete applications for students who likely are eligible. Those students have until June 1 to complete their applications.
At the Lottery Commission’s regular monthly meeting, Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said proceeds from scratch-off ticket sales, which account for 82 percent of total sales, appear to be bouncing back after a slow period.
"Back in July and August, September and October we just kind of hit rock bottom," he said.
Woosley said that after that slump "we … made some changes to our planning and to the games that we were going to release over the next six or eight months, and I think you’re starting to see that we’re getting back on track and we’re getting healthy again from an instant ticket standpoint."
He said the lottery’s net proceeds in March totaled $9.8 million, making it one of the lottery’s best months, though it was well below the $12.8 million that the lottery generated in March 2012.
Woosley said lotteries typically go through a "honeymoon period" with the public when they are new, and that the honeymoon period for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, which launched in September 2009, apparently ended last summer.
He also noted that the March 2012 number was boosted by a Mega Millions jackpot that soared to a record $640 million. The game’s jackpots since then have been relatively small, but there has been talk of making changes to the game to give it a boost, he said.
Powerball raised its ticket price from $1 to $2 in January 2012, resulting in a larger average jackpot amount. Mega Millions tickets are still $1.
Reflecting on this year’s legislative session, Woosley said it was "very fortunate" for the lottery that a bill to require that at least 25 percent of annual gross revenue go to scholarships was defeated. Currently, all proceeds after prizes and expenses go to scholarships — typically about 20 percent — but there is no minimum percentage.
Woosley testified against the bill in committee during the session, arguing that it would result in smaller prizes and diminished ticket sales.
"We’re hoping that we can drive the percentage up to where it’s not a continuing issue," he said Monday.
Commissioner Mike Malone of Fayetteville said he has seen lottery advertising at college sports events in other states and questioned whether the Arkansas lottery’s ban against advertising on college campuses is "tying the hands" of the marketing staff. No immediate action was taken.
The commission also held a retirement ceremony for Julie Baldridge, the lottery’s spokeswoman and former acting director.
Commission Chairman Ben Pickard of Searcy read a letter from Gov. Mike Beebe thanking Baldridge for her long service to the state, which also included serving as press secretary to Bill Clinton when he was attorney general and later governor, spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas System, assistant to the Senate president pro tem and assistant dean of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law.