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Alabama lottery...windfall or bust?

(image: WPMI) Alabama lottery...windfall or bust?

NBC 15 News is investigating the pros and cons of a state lottery. NBC 15's Nicole Fierro showed you how some only see dollar signs and believe it'd be a game changer for the state. NBC 15' s Andrea Ramey shows you why they're flat wrong.

Sure everyone dreams about millions of dollars magically falling from the sky. But let's get real. Spending your paycheck on gambling can lead to financial ruin.

"We lost our car. We lost our home. I lost my vocation. My wife divorced me. My kids didn't want to have anything to do with me," said Roger Olsen.

Olsen was a compulsive gambler for years.

"I woke up one day, and I was bankrupt in every area of my life. Emotionally physically spiritually, mentally financially. You talk about rock bottom? My rock bottom had some basements to it," said Olsen.

Now, he helps other addicts at the Alabama Council on Compulsive Gambling and urges people who have a problem to call 211.

"There are people that have contacted our organization that have been addicted to scratch off tickets," said Olsen.

"It's a tax, not only is it a tax, it's an unfair tax. It's a tax on the poor," said Woodridge Baptist Church Senior Pastor Mack Morris.

Studies show the elderly, minorities and the poor spend more on lotto. One North Carolina study found people living in the most impoverished counties, bought the most lotto tickets spending more than $400 a year on them. In Oregon, where the state also runs video lottery terminals, the lottery commission reports the average person playing those machines loses $2.500 a year.

"It preys on the poor. That $250 million dollars came from somebody's pocket who couldn't afford it," said Morris.

From his position behind the pulpit, Woodridge Baptist Church senior pastor Mack Morris has fought to keep lotto and other forms of gambling out of Alabama.

"How many people have lost the educational funds for their children? How many people have been harassed by the mob? These are the untold stories you here nothing about, but as a pastor I've been there. I've heard those stories," said Morris.

People spent more on the lotto than on sports tickets, books, video games, movies and music combined. Lotto sales were $73 billion in 2015 alone.

And those sales are often sold as helping school kids. So where's that windfall of cash? Striking teachers across the country would love to know. In state after state, lawmakers have chipped away at education funding, diverting those funds elsewhere. Meaning the lottery becomes a staple rather than added jackpot.

"Anything the state could make off lottery, we're going to pay out in Medicaid, Medicare, all the food stamp programs because our poorest of the poor are going to be the heaviest spenders in this thing," said Rep. Jack Williams, (R) Mobile County.

The lotto comes up every session in Montgomery, and it's lawmakers like Jack Williams who've successfully battled against it.

"For me it's a moral bill," said Williams.

"It's a bad tax. It's unhealthy. It's unreliable. It's not a good deal for the people of Alabama," said Morris.

In Florida, lawmakers last session voted to put warning labels on lotto tickets telling people their odds of winning are extremely low.

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