CA Lottery Facing “Misuse of Funds” Probe After Giving Away $212k in Scratchers to “Ellen” Guests

The California State lottery is under fire after giving away $212k in free scratchers to Ellen Show audience members.

LATimes reports Comedian Ellen DeGeneres drew wild cheers from the studio audience of her television talk show in December when she announced each person in attendance would receive a $500 bundle of Scratchers tickets from the California State Lottery.

Lottery officials saw it as a publicity boon, but a whistleblower complaint filed by some lottery employees argues the agency’s giveaway of the tickets — which have a combined face value of $212,500 — should be investigated as a “misuse of funds,” according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The controversy comes just weeks before a state audit is scheduled to be released on lottery finances in response to a string of recent scandals that included allegations of wasteful spending, improper gifts and nepotism. State Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) requested the audit last year to determine whether money is going as promised to public schools. California voters approved the lottery in 1984 with an understanding that 34% of sales revenue would go toward education, though the Legislature in 2010 relaxed that requirement to give managers discretion to follow “best practices.”

Chang is concerned that the amount of money reserved for schools is not growing at the same rate as lottery revenue. She said the auditor should also look at the giveaway of Scratchers on the Dec. 3 episode of the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

“This concerns me because, bottom line, the mission of the California Lottery is to provide supplemental funding to California public schools,” Chang said. “I want to know how this contribution affects supplemental funding to California public schools. Does it help? I don’t think so.”

Chang said the California State Lottery should have been reimbursed by DeGeneres’ show for the tickets provided. She has also questioned the handling of the tickets after a YouTube blogger who was not in the studio audience said she was given a $500 packet of Scratchers by someone affiliated with the show.

The whistleblower complaint was sent to the state auditor and Gov. Gavin Newsom by a group of lottery employees, who alleged that some gift packs that did not go to the audience were improperly left with show staff and not accounted for.

A spokesperson for the governor did not provide a comment, but officials with the California Lottery confirmed producers of the show were given at no cost 425 packets that each included 72 Scratchers tickets with a face value of $500 per packet.