Washington's Lottery

A History of Legislation

Many Washington State residents believe Washington's Lottery was approved by the Legislature with the intent that Lottery revenues be dedicated to schools or education programs solely. While this perception is understandable given the history of "Lottery Legislation" introduced in the 1970s and early 1980s, the reality is different.

Legislation creating Washington's Lottery was signed on July 16, 1982, by Governor John Spellman. When this bill (House Bill No. 1251, supporting the establishment of a lottery for Washington State) first came before the Legislature, it was a time of recession both in Washington State and, in fact, throughout much of the country. Because there was a great need for funding in many areas, the Legislature was reluctant to pass any bill that would dedicate Lottery funds solely to education. Therefore, Washington's Lottery was created to provide revenues for the State General Fund, which supports schools, human services programs, natural resources, and government programs.

The full bill can be found in Chapter 7 of Washington Laws, 1982 2nd Ex. Sess., listing [House Bill No. 1251] STATE LOTTERY, with the following timeline:

  • Passed the House June 30, 1982
  • Passed the Senate July 1, 1982
  • Approved by the Governor July 16, 1982
  • Filed in Office of Secretary of State July 16, 1982

In November 2000 voters approved Initiative Measure 728 redirecting Lottery revenue contributions from the State General Fund to the Student Achievement Fund and the Education Construction Fund. I-728 stipulates that after July 1, 2004, all Lottery revenue for education will be directed to the Education Construction Fund. The Education Construction dollars are used for the maintenance and repair of higher education institutions and to build, remodel, and renovate K-12 schools.

So why the confusion? Legislation introduced between 1973 and 1982 in either the state Senate or state House of Representatives proposed dedicating Lottery revenue to state institutions, transportation, the common schools, special levy relief, and city and county government.

A 1973 Lottery proposal introduced in the Washington State Legislature would have used the money to improve state institutions for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

One 1974 measure allocated 40 percent of the revenue to the General Fund either for aid to education or state institutions. A 1974 bill approved by the Legislature, but vetoed by the Governor, required that Lottery revenue be used for special levy relief.

In 1975, the state Senate narrowly defeated one Lottery bill but approved another that proposed asking voters to decide on a Lottery. The measure died in the House of Representatives.

A 1978 Lottery bill, the proceeds from which would support city and county government, died in committee. An initiative filed in 1978 called for the creation of a state agency to operate a state lottery and casinos. The sponsor claimed half of the money would go to education. Signatures were never submitted to the Secretary of State's office.

A 1979 Lottery bill allocating 40 percent of the revenue to local governments died in the House. A 1981 bill, part of a "tax equity" package, would have given the state's share to the common schools.

In March 1982, a House committee approved a bill giving lottery money to the common schools. The bill expired in the Senate.

Legislation creating Washington's Lottery was approved by the House on June 30, 1982, during a special session called to deal with a projected $253 million budget deficit. The bill required that the State General Fund receive the state's share of the revenue.

Measures to dedicate the state's share of Lottery revenue to the common schools were introduced but not approved during several Legislative Sessions throughout the 1990s. On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, Washington voters approved I-728, also known and cited as the K-12 2000 Student Achievement Act, which redirected Lottery revenue contributions from the State General Fund to education funds beginning July 1, 2001.

On April 3, 2002, Governor Gary Locke signed legislation which allowed Washington's Lottery to join the multistate lottery Mega Millions effective June 2002. Profit from all Lottery games must benefit education up to the level of $102 million annually. Once the $102 million contribution level for education has been reached, any additional net revenues from Mega Millions will benefit the General Fund while other Lottery games continue to benefit education.   From July 1, 2004 to July 1, 2009, all Lottery net revenues allocated for education were sent to the Education Construction Fund to help build, renovate and remodel schools throughout Washington State.

In 2009, the state experienced one of the most challenging and difficult legislative sessions forcing the Governor and the Legislature to make tough decisions to fill a $9 billion state budget gap.  One of these decisions was to redirect Lottery dollars for education as well as economic development contributions to the General Fund to support a wide range of important state programs, including education.  On July 1, 2009, Lottery funds were redirected from the Education Construction Fund to the General Fund for the 2009-11 biennium. Also in 2009 the Legislature approved the sale of the multi-state game Powerball to the lineup of Washington's Lottery products.

While the Education Construction Fund has been Lottery’s largest beneficiary, Lottery has been directed by the Legislature to make small, but important contributions to stadium funding and problem gambling prevention and treatment.

The 2010 Legislative session marked an exciting change at Washington’s Lottery with the passage of Senate Bill 6409. The new law, prime sponsored by Sen. Jim Kastama, directs Lottery dollars into a new education pathways account to help fund higher education programs. Beginning July 2010, more than $100 million annually in Lottery proceeds will be dedicated to the Opportunity Pathways Account helping to fund access grants, state work study awards, and two merit scholarship programs. Additionally, funds from the account may be used to support early learning programs.

Along with the Opportunity Pathways Account, Lottery proceeds will continue to contribute to stadium debt reduction for Safeco Field and Qwest Field and Exhibition Center as well as support problem gambling prevention and treatment. The Education Construction Fund will continue to be funded by other sources.