I should have dug a little deeper last August when I asked state lottery officials about how often big winning tickets are sold but never cashed. The data were available for “draw games” (like the daily jackpot), but not for “instant games” (the “scratchers”). Why was that?

Because maybe the winning scratch-off wasn’t sold, I was told, writing it off as a matter of a handful of tickets being pulled off shelves at the end of an instant game’s marketing run.

But now two class action lawsuits contend the lottery has been calculatedly ending some “scratch-off” ticket sales early — before tickets with the biggest prizes were sold, or as one lawsuit alleges, “when the profitability of the game was statistically maximized.”

If that’s true, maybe odds of winning a big jackpot in an instant game have been even longer than we thought.

The lottery is managed by a private firm, Northstar Lottery Group, under a lot of pressure to enhance the lottery’s profitability. Northstar gets a share of lottery profits. Put those facts together and they explain a lot.

State government, about halfway through a 10-year deal with Northstar, is trying to end the relationship, even if it means paying sizeable early-out fees outlined in the contract.

State legislative hearings into the whole mess are scheduled for this spring. In the meantime, Northstar is not having to stand in line with small businesses, healthcare providers and other vendors waiting for the state to make good on $12.8 billion in unpaid bills.

No, Northstar’s sweet deal ensures it doesn’t have to wait for its money: $11.4 million last month, $55.4 million so far this fiscal year.

Good to know somebody’s got a sure thing going with the lottery.

Per capita spending

A study by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform finds that on a per capita basis, Tazewell and Woodford counties have some of Illinois’ lowest spending on county government employee salaries.

In 2015, Tazewell County spent $144 per resident on salaries, tying it for for sixth lowest among Illinois’ 102 counties. Woodford County was tied for eighth lowest at $150.

McLean County’s $192 was 17 percent below the state-wide average of $224.

The same group found a McLean County township had the ninth highest payroll on a per capita basis among the state’s more than 1,400 township governments.

West Township (a rural area between LeRoy and Bellflower) spent $259 for each of the township’s 216 residents.

Radio news

Congratulations to WGLT’s Charlie Schlenker and Willis Kern. Schlenker will succeed Kern as news director when Kern retires at the end of the month after 24 years at the NPR affiliate — 20 of them as news director.

It’s not the first time Schlenker has succeeded Kern. Kern hired Schlenker away from WJBC to follow him as assistant news director when Kern, also a WJBC alum, was promoted to his current job. A good call. Schlenker, 54, may be downstate’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable broadcaster and is committed to civil discourse.

Meanwhile, WJBC is taking a significant step toward beefing up its sometimes lagging newsroom with the return Monday of Howard Packowitz after a 19-year absence. Packowitz was at WJBC 10 years before working in Peoria TV and covering Chicago markets for Dow Jones.

Dollars on horizon

Media outlets in Illinois are likely licking their chops, anticipating big revenue from next year’s governor’s race.

Two multi-millionaires, Bruce Rauner and Chris Kennedy, already are in the race while J.B. Pritzker, listed by Forbes Magazine as the third richest person in Illinois, is exploring a run.

State law says limits on campaign donations (and spending) in the governor’s race don’t exist after a gubernatorial candidate self-funds a campaign with more than a quarter million dollars. Rauner (with $50 million) and Kennedy ($250,100) have already done that. Pritzker is contributing $200,000.

Vogel, of rural Bloomington, can be reached at vogelgraph@yahoo.com.


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