August 20, 2010 | Posted in Arkansas Lottery | By

Yesterday, the Arkansas Lottery Commission voted to install lottery ticket vending machines in spite of overwhelming public opinion to the contrary.

At the public hearing on Thursday, 21 people testified against the machines; 2 people testified for them.  Before that, more than 1,220 people wrote public comments asking the Commission not to install the machines; only about 40 wrote comments asking for the machines.

Earlier this week, we told you about 3 lottery myths being passed around.  After yesterday’s display, I felt there were some more myths that still need to be busted, and here they are.

Myth #1: The more than 1,220 comments against the machines represent a vocal, anti-lottery minority—not the voters who support the lottery.

Truth: Lottery officials keep saying their job is to represent the voters who voted for a lottery in 2008.  Well, if they had taken the time to read all the comments that were submitted last week, they would have found many of the comments came from people who voted for and play the lottery, but oppose lottery ticket vending machines.

Lottery vending machine opposition is bipartisan. There are people who voted for the lottery who don’t want vending machines.  There are people who play the lottery who don’t want vending machines.  The Arkansas Lottery Commission needs to realize that their decision yesterday goes against the will of most Arkansans, not just some vocal minority.

Myth #2: These machines will provide an additional $5 million in scholarship money.

Truth: The 100 machines they’ve purchased so far cost $50,000 each.  That means they spent roughly $5 million buying the machines.  That’s $5 million they could have had in scholarships this year.

The Lottery Commission’s best estimate is that these machines will add $5 million in scholarship money by next year.  So they spent $5 million in order to get $5 million.  It’s a wash. At best, they’re breaking even, not adding money to the scholarship fund.  The worst part is now it’s going to take a full year before the scholarships recoup that $5 million when the Lottery Commission could have just handed it to the kids instead of buying these machines.

And there is no guarantee these machines are going to meet those estimates in years to come.

Myth #3: The Arkansas Lottery Commission has the final say on whether or not lottery ticket vending machines come to Arkansas.

Truth: They don’t. The People of Arkansas voted for the lottery amendment in 2008.  The Arkansas Legislature passed the enabling legislation for the lottery in 2009.  They created the Lottery Commission, and they could abolish it if they wanted to.  The Arkansas Lottery Commission needs to respect the power of Arkansas’ voters and elected officials, and remember that as a state agency their boss is the People of Arkansas, not the people who run the lottery for a living.

The Arkansas Legislature may have entrusted a lot of power to the Lottery Commission, but the Commission has abused that trust by overstepping its bounds.  They may believe they have the authority to implement lottery ticket vending machines, but Arkansas’ voters and legislators have the ultimate say on the issue.

Concluding Thoughts

It appeared to us that the Lottery Commission chose not to listen to the People yesterday. They opened a public comment period, and over 90% of the comments they received were in opposition to the machines, yet they unanimously approved the machines anyway.

We did notice that seated at the back of the room during the hearing were representatives of the lottery industry—particularly those who are selling lottery ticket vending machines to the State of Arkansas at $50,000 a machine.  Members of our staff overhead these people in the back of the room say during the hearing, “Don’t worry. We have the votes we need.”

I can only conclude that the Arkansas Lottery Commission was listening to someone other than the People of Arkansas at yesterday’s hearing.  If that’s true, this is not how a state agency is supposed to work, and that’s why our next move is to lobby the Arkansas Legislature to rein in this agency.

Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.