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'Taking Money Away From Schools': California Lottery Under Fire After 'Ellen' Giveaway

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For her holiday special, talk show star Ellen DeGeneres gifted her audience tens of thousands of dollars worth of lottery tickets, but that gift to the show was raising eyebrows Thursday night.

"Giving away free tickets is really just taking money away from schools," State Sen. Ling Ling Chang said.

The California State Lottery said it gave the show more than $138,000 worth of Scratchers for free, in exchange for publicity, but the Los Angeles Times reported that lottery employees filed a whistleblower complaint about the giveaway, calling it a misuse of funds. Chang said that was money that should have gone to California public schools.

"The California State Lottery was created by the voters with the intended purpose of providing supplemental funding to our public schools, and that is actually stated in their mission," she said. "I just don't believe that, you know, giving away free tickets on a TV show is the right move for them at this point."

Last year, Chang called for an audit of the lottery to make sure that the money was going where it should. She said she's worried that lottery profits were climbing and school funding was staying flat.

"It's going up," she said. "It's not going down. But they haven't found a way to contribute more to schools, and I can't figure out why. And now they're giving out free tickets. It's befuddling to me."

The California State Lottery said executives followed regulations for the promotion, estimating that the giveaway earned more than $1 million in media exposure.

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