A whistleblower expressed concern about the California Lottery distributing more than $200,000 in free scratch-off lottery tickets to Ellen DeGeneres' talk show in December, the Los Angeles Times reported .
In December, DeGeneres gave away $500 in tickets to each member of her audience. The complaint said that this giveaway should be investigated as a "misuse of funds," the LA Times reported, based on government documents.
The California Lottery reportedly saw this as a publicity boon. The lottery even posted a video of the moment on its YouTube page.
The California Lottery estimated that the publicity was worth $1.6 million.
“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,” lottery spokesperson Russ Lopez told the LA Times. “This promotional opportunity allowed the lottery to achieve significant cost savings compared to buying the equivalent in media exposure via a traditional ad buy.”
State Sen. Ling Ling Chang echoed the whistleblower's concerns.
“This concerns me because, bottom line, the mission of the California Lottery is to provide supplemental funding to California public schools,” Chang told the LA Times. “I want to know how this contribution affects supplemental funding to California public schools. Does it help? I don’t think so.”
Adding to the concern was whether the tickets were properly distributed to audience members.
Then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law in 2010 requiring that 87% of lottery revenue must be used on winnings and education. The rest is used for operating the lottery.