Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lottery Talks Are Causing Motion Sickness As Opponents Lay Out Strategy

The lottery is beginning to move from behind closed doors into the light of day. House Speaker Robbie Wills promises that tomorrow we will get a look at the draft of the legislation dealing with the structure of the lottery. The House Rules and State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet in the Old Supreme Court Room at the capital tomorrow afternoon to unveil this first half of the bill. Wills told the Arkansas News Bureau that everyone will get a chance to speaking promising “stay there as long as everybody wants to stay.”

However, tomorrow can’t come soon enough for Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison) who made a motion today that the full House hold a special session to consider the legislative. House “umpire” Wills ruling the motion out of the strike zone and refused to recognize it, saying, “Mr. Burris, I’m not going to recognize that motion at this time. I’d be happy to visit with you about that after the session today and possibly take that motion up tomorrow.”

I spoke with Rep. Burris this evening on the phone regarding his motion. He told me that he wanted the house to go into a special session following adjournment to give everyone a chance to publicly ask questions and discuss the lottery proposal. “I am not the least bit upset about the way the lottery discussions have been going,” Burris said. “But I do feel that we have reached the point where we need public discussions with all the representatives involved.” He told me that he is pleased that there will be a meeting in the Old Supreme Court chamber tomorrow but still feels a special session on the House floor would have been a better approach for facilitating the discussion. He went on to say that he felt his motion was proper but also that “the Speaker was within his power to not recognize it.”

As the debate nears the public view, the gambling opponents have also begun to outline their strategy. I have received messages both from Jerry Cox with the Family Council of Arkansas and Larry Page with the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council. (In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work for Page at AFEC.) Here is the basic concerns laid out by AFEC (Family Council’s is very similar.)

• Video lottery terminals (VLT’s), which are nothing more than slot machines that the lottery commission could approve and install in numerous locations across the state, should be prohibited.

• The law should require the lottery commission to publicly and widely disseminate information regarding the odds of winning the various prizes offered in the state’s lottery business.

• Prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets to minors and imposing significant fines on those businesses doing so will be a feature that should become part of the law.

• Please contact both your state senator and state representative and ask them to oppose and vote against any lottery legislation that lacks real transparency, that will allow video lottery terminals, that will not provide significant penalties for businesses that sell lottery tickets to minors, or a law that fails to require the lottery commission to adhere to real, meaningful, and solid truth-in-advertising standards.

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