Some state officials in California are calling for an investigation into the California Lottery after a whistleblower complaint argued that giving away a total of $212,500 in Scratchers on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” was a “misuse of funds.”
The complaint is the latest in a series of scandals involving the lottery, including allegations of improper gifts, nepotism and wasteful spending and just weeks before a state audit of lottery finances are scheduled to be released, the Los Angeles Times reported.
DeGeneres gave away $500 in Scratchers tickets to each audience member last December as part of her 12 Days of Giveaways before Christmas.
“I know something that can make them absolutely filthy rich this holiday season,” Jimmy Kimmel, who was presenting the Scratchers with DeGeneres, said of the audience during the giveaway. “Give the gift of Scratchers from the California Lottery. Their mission is to provide funding to California schools for programs like music, reading art, technology — all that kind of stuff.”
The audit was requested last year by Republican State Sen. Ling Ling Chang to make sure 34 percent of lottery sales are going to public schools in the state.
Chang said the “Ellen” giveaway should also be investigated because she thinks it was handled improperly.
“This concerns me because, bottom line, the mission of the California Lottery is to provide supplemental funding to California public schools,” Chang said, according to The Times. “I want to know how this contribution affects supplemental funding to California public schools. Does it help? I don’t think so.”
She added that the show should have reimbursed the lottery for the tickets and questioned the handling of the Scratchers when a YouTuber said someone affiliated with the show – who was not an audience member – gave her a $500 packet.
The whistleblower complaint, filed by lottery employees, also alleged some of the ticket packets were unaccounted for and left with staff for the show.
“I think somebody needs to take a very close look at how the lottery is distributing their Scratchers tickets. This is money taken right out of education,” retired lottery sales representative Charlotte Belasco told the Times.
Lottery spokesman Russ Lopez said the “total media value” of having DeGeneres and Kimmel promote the Lottery on her show was calculated to be worth about $1.6 million.
“The Ellen Show offered a unique opportunity to increase consumer awareness of California Lottery’s contributions to public education while helping to drive sales of Holiday Scratchers,” Lopez said. “This promotional opportunity allowed the lottery to achieve significant cost savings compared to buying the equivalent in media exposure via a traditional ad buy.”
He added that the giveaway complied with state regulations.
California Lottery officials confirmed to The Times that the show was given 425 Scratchers packets worth $500 each for the giveaway.
He said the Lottery wasn’t told by the show how many packets were left over after the giveaway but said the packet given to the YouTuber is the only one he knows of that didn’t go to an audience member.
“It was Lottery’s understanding that all gift boxes were to be distributed,” Lopez said, according to The Times. “We subsequently learned that an extra gift box was supplied to a popular influencer which provided additional media exposure, endorsement and promotional value for Holiday Scratchers games at no extra cost to Lottery.”
But Chang said she doesn’t think giving away the tickets helps Lottery sales and if one of the audience members wins big it could take away money meant for schools.