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Lawmaker questions California Lottery's $212,000 'Ellen' giveaway

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LOS ANGELES — A state legislator wants an audit of the California Lottery to look into a whistleblower complaint about more than $212,000 worth of scratchers tickets that were given to Ellen DeGeneres’ TV show for audience gifts.

The lottery viewed the move as a publicity boon but the complaint filed by some lottery employees contends the giveaway was a “misuse of funds,” the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The giveaway occurred on the Dec. 3 episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” The lottery confirmed that the show was given at no cost 425 packets that each included 72 scratchers tickets with a face value of $500 per packet, the Times said.

The controversy has arisen just weeks before the release of a lottery audit requested last year by state Sen. Ling Ling Chang after allegations of wasteful spending, improper gifts and nepotism.

Chang said the audit should investigate the TV show giveaway because she’s concerned about funding that the lottery is supposed to generate for California public schools.

“I want to know how this contribution affects supplemental funding to California public schools. Does it help? I don’t think so,” she said.

Voters approved the lottery in 1984. Initially, 34% of sales revenue was to go toward education, but the Legislature relaxed that in 2010 to allow managers to follow “best practices.”

Lottery spokesman Russ Lopez said giving away more than 30,000 Scratchers tickets was intended to create positive publicity and increase sales.

He said the “total media value” received in California from the promotional segment on the national show was about $1.6 million, as calculated by Horizon Media, a consultant firm advising the lottery that based the valuation on standard industry-media rates. The lottery also buys advertising for its games.

“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.”

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