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WANT THE LATEST GREATEST ON ILLINOIS NEWS, VIEWS, LIST AND INFOGRAPHICS WITHOUT THE ADVERTISING? Five residents won prizes ranging from $1 million to $5 million in recent weeks, and a Powerball frenzy has boosted program revenues. Last week, Danny Cevallos, a legal analyst for CNN, wrote an article headlined “The jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the Powerball.” Cevallos decried how government justifies its laws banning private gambling, while running its own gambling casinos in the form of lotteries. Cevallos’ article sparked a question or two in my belly, and I took a peek at the financial performance of the Illinois Lottery as disclosed in the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This practice is interesting in light of how the state and its retirement plans manage the investments backing woefully-underfunded employee retirement obligations. This can lead to some curious incentives, under the “Prudent Person Rule” governing investment management in Illinois law. WANT THE LATEST AND GREATEST ON ILLINOIS NEWS, VIEWS, LISTS AND INFOGRAPHICS WITHOUT THE ADVERTISING?

The state is actually paying winners again, after paying in scrip amidst recent budget difficulties.
Cevallos noted how the government benefits from monopoly power for its lotteries, which provide ridiculously low odds of winning while raking in cash.
The program’s prizes lead, in some cases, to longer-term obligations the state reports as liabilities. The Illinois Teachers Retirement Plan, for example, is heavily invested in common stocks and private equity. And after last year’s Illinois Supreme Court decision guaranteeing retirement benefits, pension obligations have become certain things as well. The law calls for pension plan assets to be managed solely in the interest of plan beneficiaries. The priority of this program for state finances was underscored in another recent development, as CNN has reported that the state is paying winners even as students are not receiving promised state aid.

Yet the lottery payments are backed by close-to-risk-free investments, while the pensions are backed by risky ones. The stock market downturn in the last few months has now amplified the social consequences of the pressing crisis in Illinois state and local government finances. At 27 percent, the implied “profit margin” qualifies as an enviable result for any monopolist.
But given that the benefits are now guaranteed under the Illinois state constitution, plan beneficiaries have different preferences about how risky their investments are. Treasury Bonds, which are purchased and then segregated from other state investments (and cash).

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