Ark. lotto repeal study stalls in committee

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 10:47 AM

A proposal to study whether Arkansas should repeal the state's lottery stalled before a legislative panel, with lottery critics acknowledging that eliminating the games approved by voters appeared unlikely.

A joint panel did not make a recommendation Wednesday on the proposal by Sen. Sue Madison, who says lawmakers should repeal the law setting up a commission to run the games. Voters last year authorized the state to establish a lottery, and ticket sales began in late September.

A vote on the study would have been mostly ceremonial and wouldn't affect whether Madison can bring up a repeal before lawmakers. Madison said she hasn't ruled out bringing up the proposal next year, when the Legislature convenes for a primarily fiscal session.

"I'm realistic to know that it probably will not happen until there's some real crisis that the public sees, and we're not there yet," said Madison, who had co-sponsored the lottery legislation earlier this year.

The hearing before the House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees mostly rehashed from last year's campaign opponents' criticism of the lottery, which they say unfairly targets low-income residents and puts the state in the business of promoting gambling.

Lottery critics said they wanted lawmakers to at least consider putting more restrictions on the lottery, particularly the types of games it offers and how it is advertised.

"Take this thing back to the drawing board," said Jerry Cox, president of the anti-gambling Arkansas Family Council, which unsuccessfully sued to try and keep the lottery off last year's ballot.

Lawmakers on the panel said they're open to changes to the lottery law to require more monitoring of advertising and revenues, but several said they're reluctant to consider repealing it altogether.

"I think you're trying to box us in a corner so we're the bad guys," Rep. Clark Hall told Cox, noting voter support for the lottery amendment.

Lottery officials predict they will sell more than $400 million in tickets in the first year, with $100 million raised for college scholarships. Lawmakers next year will determine the amounts to be set for the lottery-funded scholarships.

House Speaker Robbie Wills, the lead sponsor of the House legislation setting up the lottery, said a legislative panel overseeing the lottery would look at the issues raised at Wednesday's hearing.

"We're just two months into operation of the lottery, so it's premature to talk about abolishing it altogether," Wills said.

Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue, who attended the meeting, said he would not comment on Madison's proposal and said the issue should be up to legislators.

Sen. Steve Faris, the Senate panel's chairman, told lawmakers after about an hour of debate that there would not be a vote on the proposal because not enough members were present.

Rep. Rick Saunders, the House committee's chairman, told Madison he was prepared to propose rejecting Madison's study and cited the money available for scholarships.

"We hope with the scholarship money that perhaps we'll have lots more mathematics majors who will understand the odds of playing the lottery," Madison replied.