The Iowa Lottery recently conducted a phone survey that asked Iowans for their opinion on a number of issues and initiatives. The poll included questions on two highly controversial measurers – lowering the age requirement to play lottery games from 21 to 18, and instituting new lottery games on the internet that would accept debit or credit cards as forms of payment.
Mary Neubauer, a spokesperson with for the Iowa Lottery, confirmed that the lottery was indeed polling. She told TheIowaRepublican.com, “Iowa law requires that the Lottery CEO study issues that may impact the lottery, be aware of the effect those issues could have, and make plans accordingly within the lottery’s business operations.”
Iowa Code Chapter 99G.7(2) states, “The chief executive officer shall conduct an ongoing study of the operation and administration of lottery laws similar to this chapter in other states or countries, of available literature on the subject, of federal laws and regulations which may affect the operation of the lottery and of the reaction of citizens of this state to existing or proposed features of lottery games with a view toward implementing improvements that will tend to serve the purpose of this chapter.”
According to Neubauer, the Iowa Lottery conducts a biennial survey of randomly selected Iowans to gather their input and opinions. “This year’s survey included questions about internet gambling because a few different pieces of federal legislation regarding the matter are currently pending. The bill that is probably getting the most attention was introduced by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services. It now has dozens of co-sponsors. The bill sets out detailed licensing and regulatory requirements for entities that would offer internet gambling,” said Neubauer.
When Terry Rich was appointed by Governor Chet Culver to serve as the new CEO of the Iowa Lottery earlier this spring, he stated that his goal was to enhance socially acceptable lottery products like Powerball and scratch tickets. Neubauer made it clear that none of the issues included in the poll, such as lowering the age limit, on-line games, and adding a new mega-millions game, are recommendations by Lottery CEO Terry Rich or the Lottery itself.
Lottery officials insist that they are only meeting the requirements set out in the Iowa Code. However, Governor Culver looked to the lottery to help solve the state’s budget problems late last year. Governor Culver considered the possibility of selling or leasing the Iowa lottery to private interests in return for a lump sum payment and an annual fee. Majority Leader Mike Gronstal believed the idea deserved serious consideration. The proposal was greeted with intense opposition from the public and legislative Republicans.
Since then the economy has only gotten worse. Tom Coates, the director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines and an outspoken gambling critic, isn’t surprised to hear that the Iowa Lottery is entertaining the possibility of lowering the age requirement and moving towards on-line games.
“When the economy is bad, and the state is in terrible financial shape, it creates a demand to increase lottery revenues to produce higher revenues for the state,” said Coates, who also serves of the national board of directors for Stop Predatory Gambling. “Lowering the age requirement and speeding up the action only makes these new lottery games more addictive.”
In 2006, Congressman Jim Leach successfully passed a federal ban on internet gambling. Now, just two years later, there is legislation in the U.S. House and Senate that would establish regulatory requirements for entities that would offer Internet gambling. It is apparent that state lotteries are looking at the proposed legislation and salivating over the possibility of expanding their products to the web.
Governor Culver has repeatedly pledged that he will not raise taxes despite the state’s poor fiscal condition. That means he has to either increase current revenue streams from areas such as Iowa Lottery or continue to cut government spending and programs. Culver has already ordered across-the-board cuts, and some agencies, like the State Auditor’s office, have already experienced a 33% cut in their funding.
While it is unlikely that either Governor Culver or officials with the Iowa Lottery will admit that they are looking at making major changes to the lottery, if Culver is serious about his “no new taxes” pledge, he doesn’t have many other places to look for increased revenue to fix his budget mess.
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