Number Crunched

Self-Appointed lottery watchdog Dawn Nettles keeps her eye on the balls-and has some, too.

Shortly after the change, she was notified that she would no longer receive the information on drawings and payouts that the commission faxed daily to the news media. She was told she did not meet the criteria for being a journalist. In response, Nettles had herself listed in the Texas Journalism Directory and joined the Society of Professional Journalists. She bombarded the agency, the commissioners and the Legislature with phone calls and letters, almost pleading in some cases, to get the faxes back. She was told that the move was a cost-cutting measure.

"It was just me and two others from out of state," Nettles says. "How much money is that saving?" To her, it was obvious that the agency was retaliating for her opposition to the rule change--and that made her mad.

"I don't quit," she says. "When you burn me, I'm going to come after you."

Dawn Nettles regularly visits lottery retailers around the metroplex.
Dawn Nettles regularly visits lottery retailers around the metroplex.
Eighteen-hour days aren't unusual for Nettles at the office she keeps in her Garland home.
Eighteen-hour days aren't unusual for Nettles at the office she keeps in her Garland home. became a catalog of discontent. She revealed that more than a dozen lottery employees had been found with pornography on their computers but only a few had been fired. "How did the TLC Executive Staff manage to define porn when even the Supreme Court can't define porn?" she asked online.

Nettles had always posted Lotto sales for every drawing, but in March 2000, she began calculating the exact amount winners should receive based on sales. Retroactive calculations revealed that some winners had been shorted money while some had been overpaid. An internal commission memo dated March 30, 2000, noted that there was a conflict in the rules that allowed the discrepancy, and the problem was corrected--but the commission never acknowledged Nettles' role, and the excruciatingly technical imbroglio never made the papers.

The next discrepancy Nettles says she found did make the papers--on the front page. This discrepancy couldn't be explained away as a rules conflict, and it would eventually cost Cloud her job. As Nettles tells it, she received an anonymous call in March 2002. "Why don't you call the Lottery Commission and find out why Walter Criner isn't a commissioner anymore?" the caller suggested.

"So I called over to the commission and asked them, 'Who's the new commissioner?'" Nettles says. "They said, 'What do you mean? We don't know anything about it.' So I called over to the AP, and I said, 'Do you guys have a press release about Walter Criner not being a commissioner anymore?'"

Nettles claims she called several more reporters looking for information, and, of course, they began calling the commission looking for answers, too. One of them, Jay Root of the Star-Telegram, got Cloud on the phone. She denied any knowledge of Criner's departure--on the instructions, she later claimed in a lawsuit, of Governor Perry's chief of staff. Criner, a Perry appointee, had been implicated in a sexual harassment investigation and had resigned in February. Months later, Cloud admitted under oath that she had lied to the press and resigned a short time later.

"I never intended to get her fired, but they shouldn't have lied to me," Nettles says. It was a sweet moment nevertheless, offering proof of what she had been saying all along: The commission lies. And a short time later, her faxes were reinstated.

Problem is, others don't recall it that way. Neither Root nor Moritz at the Star-Telegram remembers speaking to Nettles about Criner, nor does Kuempel from the Morning News. Keith Elkins, then communications director for the commission, doesn't recall Nettles playing a role, while Cloud answers the question in no uncertain terms. "No, she didn't," Cloud says. "She wants to take credit for a lot of things that she had nothing to do with."

"The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory."

So wrote George Orwell of the lottery in the dystopian world of 1984. Echoes of that grim vision could be heard in the March 2005 Demographic Study of Texas Lottery Players done for the commission by Texas Tech University. Those with less education spent more on the lottery. Minorities spent more on the lottery. And while the data for income levels isn't as striking, on the whole, lower-income players were spending more, meaning they were spending a far greater percentage of their income.

Those conclusions were reinforced by a Dallas Morning News study that shows higher lottery sales in low-income areas. For lottery opponents, the results simply confirm what they have been saying since the lottery was first proposed in 1991.

"We're taking significant money out of the hands of the people that can afford it least," says state Representative Charlie Howard of Sugarland. When it comes to the lottery, Howard is a leading abolitionist, and it's no secret from where he draws his inspiration. "I think it is morally wrong. I think it is devastatingly wrong," he says. "If you research the Bible, you will not find but two mentions of gambling." It would be hard to argue that both mentions aren't decidedly prejudicial: In one, fishermen cast lots to decide to throw Jonah to the whales, and in the other, soldiers gamble to determine who will get the dying Jesus' clothes.

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