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Series of TV commercials to tout benefits of lottery

Ever wonder where all that money from the Florida Lottery goes?

Gina Schinasi wants to show you.

The Miami-based actor and a film crew for the Florida Lottery went to Rawlings Elementary School on Thursday to shoot the first in a series of Lottery commercials. The theme for the day was: The Lottery pays for prekindergarten programs.

Schinasi peeked in on the prekindergarten classrooms, sang Itsy Bitsy Spider with 4-year-olds in her lap, and tiptoed past napping kids while cameras and microphones captured every bit of it.

In the coming months, Schinasi will act as a Charles Kuralt-like character who travels around the state _ in a red Chevy Blazer, with her bandana-wearing border collie Bouncer _ to see for herself where lottery proceeds go. The 30-second commercials will start running Nov. 10 with a spot introducing Schinasi and her road trip.

First stop: Rawlings Elementary.

"These are all the things that we saw: A spider _ let's count the legs. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight."

Teacher Lynn Stevens read the big words in the big book as her class of 4- and 5-year-olds formed a semicircle around her. Just a few feet away, film director John Chimples stood atop a desk, capturing the moment on camers, a 1,200-watt light glowing from the corner behind him.

The idea is to burnish the lottery's image at a time when people are more cynical than ever about the multibillion-dollar enterprise. The effort is timely; lawmakers are devising plans to use lottery dollars to help pay for school construction. Once again, the state's most controversial and tempting pot of revenue is back in the news.

Lottery officials figure the best way to restore public confidence and boost ticket sales is to show people what all those millions pay for.

"For a long time we've had this negative swirl that's been hard to reverse," said Lottery Secretary Marcia Mann. "I hope that once and for all people will understand."

What Mann wants people to understand is that the lottery doesn't decide where the money goes. It is her job to sell tickets and raise money. Lots of money.

Since the first tickets were sold nearly a decade ago, the lottery has raised nearly $8-billion for education. Last year, the lottery took in $2.1-billion and sent $819-million to the schools. By law, 50 percent of the money goes back to prizes, and at least 38 percent goes to education. The rest covers advertising and other expenses.

"The Florida lottery funds prekindergarten programs, like this one, in all 67 school districts," Schinasi said to the camera.

Since 1989, Pinellas County and most school districts have held class for children who are just a year away from kindergarten. Their teachers read them stories and show them how the words on the page work, they sing songs, they learn what school is all about.

"Having been a kindergarten teacher," said prekindergarten teacher Jeanne Maynard, "I know I would be thrilled to get these kids. After pre-K, they are ready."

In the coming weeks, Schinasi, along with producer David Rolfe and director Chimples, will shoot a commercial highlighting the lottery-funded Bright Futures program, which provides college scholarships. Like prekindergarten, Bright Futures is paid for entirely through lottery money.

After that, the crew will shoot three or four more commercials to run throughout the year. The commercial featuring Rawlings Elementary should hit the airwaves Nov. 17.