Yesterday I talked about Arkansas’ first-ever legislative fiscal session, which officially convenes on February 8 at 12 p.m. While it’s true that we don’t know exactly what to expect, we do know that one important issue will get some attention: the Arkansas Lottery.
Speaker of the House Robbie Wills mentioned earlier this week on Today’s THV’s “Ask the Speaker” segment that lottery legislation will be considered—particularly legislation that deals with scholarship money and how it’s appropriated. While I wish we weren’t having a fiscal session at all, I do think this is a great opportunity for the legislature to do the right thing and raise how much of the lottery proceeds go to scholarships. Right now, only 25 cents on the dollar goes to scholarships. Raising it to 35 or 40 cents, or even higher, would force the lottery to shift its priority from expensive advertising campaigns and gambling expansion, and recommit to what the lottery is supposedly about—scholarships for students.
The legislature could also take a hard look at addiction treatment programs. Currently, about $200,000 is set aside for such programs, but as you might have guessed, this is not enough. Since the lottery is making money hand-over-fist, it can afford to allocate more funds for addiction treatment. KARK-4 reported just yesterday that 1,962 calls have already been made to the hotline established for gambling addiction. “In November, the hotline directed 29 people to treatment programs. DHS says only 4 of those enrolled in the programs available,” reported KARK-4. The Arkansas Lottery is ill-equipped to deal with the coming deluge of problem gamblers, and the lottery commission doesn’t seem to care.
Of course, lottery problems that aren’t fiscal in nature will have to wait until next year’s general session. However, you can be sure that we will be tracking any lottery legislation that shows up this session and offering our input. Even though it would be preferable that we didn’t have a lottery, we can at least work hard to make sure that it is accountable as possible to the people.