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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lottery battle at halftime, lottery commissioner Engstrom says

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 9:23 AM

click to enlarge BRUCE ENGSTROM: 'Halftime report' on lottery expansion.
  • BRUCE ENGSTROM: 'Halftime report' on lottery expansion.
The legislature finished up in the wee hours this morning with routine approval of all pending matters, including the bill to prevent the Arkansas Lottery from adding keno-style games until at least March 13. The battle will resume in the regular legislative session.

The outcome of the lottery debate brought a couple of responses this morning. Jerry Cox of the anti-gay, anti-gambling, anti-women's medical rights Family Council claimed the bill as a victory for his organization —
"We beat the lottery," his news release claims — but noted that the fight would continue and he urged calls to legislators.

Cox is full of it, as usual. No doubt his group opposes gambling in every form, but this bill wouldn't have passed without the immense behind-the-scenes lobbying push of the Oaklawn casino in Hot Springs. It opposes the new competition that would come with electronic monitor numbers-draw games in outlets all over the state, with action every few minutes.

Bruce Engstrom, a member of the Arkansas Lottery Commission, sent me his own view on the week's events. To use the sports metaphor, he writes, it's "halftime." The contest will continue. He characterizes it as a disagreement between Oaklawn and the Lottery Commission. Even crediting some legislative votes to morals and opposition to keno, if not a conventional lottery, he's still more right than Cox. He also points out that the issue, in the end, is about scholarship support for people aiming to improve their (and the state's) lot.

Engstrom writes:

Halftime Report

A very testy disagreement has developed in Arkansas this year between Oaklawn Park, the casino and racetrack in Hot Springs, and the Arkansas Lottery Commission. The issue is whether the Lottery Commission will be allowed to begin monitor games inside retail establishments around the state in order to raise money to fund more higher education scholarships. Oaklawn considers this action as competition to their own offerings of a similar nature to the citizens of our state. Oaklawn’s gambling offerings were approved by the politicians a few years back without objections.

This is a serious issue that potentially affects thousands of young and old alike that seek assistance in obtaining additional education in order to better their lives and benefit the state’s economy.

But if this were a game, which it definitely isn’t, it might be listed as Politics versus Scholarships. Each team has an owner and a manager. On the Oaklawn side the owner and manager is an extremely wealthy man living in St. Louis by the name of Charles Cella. On the scholarship team, the owners are the citizens of Arkansas with a manager by the name of the Arkansas Lottery Commission. The manager is made up of nine citizens of the state appointed by the governor, the Senate president pro tempore and the speaker of the House. The nine members serve without pay and their only mission is to assure the Lottery is run in such a way that it obeys the law and provides enough money to fund as many scholarships as possible.

It appears that we may be entering the halftime of this conflict and it looks like the Scholarship team avoided total defeat to the Politics team by coming to a draw at the last moment. It also looks like the halftime may last until March of next year. Each team has much to do before then and I am sure they will stay busy.

If you have an interest in this disagreement, regardless of which side you favor, don’t just sit quietly in the stands, stand up and let your voice be heard. This issue is too important to too many families to let it be decided by the few.

Bruce R. Engstrom
Commissioner, Arkansas Lottery Commission

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