The Legislature’s watchdog agency concluded in a report issued Friday that the Maine State Lottery did not market any of its products to poor people or any other specific demographic group.

The 38-page report by the Maine Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability – or OPEGA – ends an 18-month review, which lawmakers requested following a series of stories reported in October 2015 by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

The stories, some of which appeared in the Portland Press Herald, found that residents of low-income communities were much more likely to buy lottery or scratch tickets and also revealed that about $22 million in winnings since 2010 were paid to people who receive some sort of public assistance.

The series questioned whether the lottery might be targeting low-income individuals.

“We found no indication that the lottery puts any marketing or advertising emphasis on any specific demographic group(s),” the report said.

OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft reached her conclusion in part because television and radio advertisements by the Maine State Lottery were identical no matter where in the state the ads ran. She also found that the lottery had not increased its spending on advertising or marketing substantially. Most of the $3 million it spends goes to TV stations in Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle.

The Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which oversees the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, hailed the report.

“The Maine Lottery has been accused of many things over the course of the last 18 months,” said Richard Rosen, the department’s commissioner. “The claims leveled at the lottery ranged from the purported tripling of its advertising spending to accusations that it targets low-income communities with its advertising. These claims had no basis in fact when they were made, and I am encouraged that OPEGA’s independent review helped bring this important information to light.”

The lottery is big business in Maine and elsewhere. Last year, the state sold $271 million worth of scratch tickers and Megabucks or Powerball tickets. That’s an increase of nearly 20 percent since 2014.

The amount paid to lottery winners in 2016 was $160 million, or about 58 percent of sales. State law says payouts must top 45 percent of all ticket sales. The majority of the net revenue goes into the state’s General Fund.

Gregg Mineo, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage and Lottery Operations, said the lottery always has been open and transparent and that the report should put to rest any question about its integrity.

“I thank both our customers and our retailers for their patience while we allowed this important process to work,” he said. “Despite a flurry of media coverage and interest from the Maine Legislature, OPEGA completed its review in a manner worthy of its stellar reputation.”

Although the OPEGA report was favorable, it still offered recommendations for the lottery, including better reporting of the agency revenues and prize payouts, and better publicizing of its board meetings. Also recommended was an annual report to the governor and Legislature, something that has not happened in recent years.

Joshua Moore, executive editor of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, said he was glad to have OPEGA “shine a light into the activities of the Maine State Lottery.”

“The recommendations in this report will ensure that the Lottery operates with greater transparency and oversight, and Mainers are learning more about the way the state markets and operates this program,” he said. “That’s a win for all Mainers.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, founded in 2009 by former newspaper journalists Naomi Schalit and John Christie, is a private, nonprofit investigative journalism foundation based in Hallowell.

The organization recently rebranded itself as Pine Tree Watch but will continue to focus on data-driven investigations. Its work is published by more than two dozen news outlets across the state, including the Press Herald.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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