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Nevada lottery effort unlikely to succeed

Insider BuzzInsider Buzz: Nevada lottery effort unlikely to succeed

An Assembly-backed resolution to let Nevada voters legalize a state lottery could be killed as early as today in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said Wednesday he expects a 4-3 vote either for or against the lottery legalization resolution, Assembly Joint Resolution 2.

The Assembly approved the resolution March 7 by a 33-9 vote. But proposals to amend the state constitution and legalize lotteries have failed 23 times since 1975.

A poll taken by the Review-Journal in 2003 found that 73 percent of residents favor legalizing a state lottery. One taken by the Reno Gazette-Journal in January found 76 percent of respondents favor a Nevada lottery.

Amodei said the main problem with AJR2 is it fails to specify how a lottery would be conducted. He said it should have specified how and where tickets would be sold, and whether Nevada would have its own lottery or be part of a multiple-state lottery.

"We are talking about doing this now and working out the details later," Amodei said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions. It asks people to pass it on faith and we'll work it out in the future."

AJR2 leaves it up to the Legislature in 2009 to work out details on how a lottery would be conducted.

Sens. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, and Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, find other problems with the lottery resolution.

Washington, a minister, said lotteries entice the poor to bet what little money they have. He said the lottery resolution should have specified how profits would be spent by school districts.

As written, the lottery resolution would allow school districts to decide whether to use proceeds to purchase textbooks or school supplies, or spend money on class-size reduction.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, primary sponsor of the resolution, has emphasized the lottery would buy textbooks for students who do not have them now. During hearings, he held up a torn textbook used in a Carson City school. Witnesses included schoolchildren who do not have books to take home to study.

But Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno, predicted school districts would spend all lottery funds on class-size reduction and students still would be without textbooks.

Supporters estimate a lottery would bring in $40 million to $70 million a year. That would be slightly more than $100 a year per student, a fraction of the $4,400 per student allocated now by state government to schools.

The 20-year California Lottery also earmarks profits to education and last year allocated the equivalent of $131 per student.

Nolan said he is concerned a lottery would take money away from the gaming industry.

"In the past, I always voted against a lottery," Nolan said. "I don't have a problem with a lottery if it can be shown it doesn't compete with gaming."

While the gaming industry as a whole has not taken an official position on the lottery resolution, Nevada Resort Association President Bill Bible said casinos like Station Casinos and Boyd Resorts oppose the legalization of a lottery.

"One of the primary issues clearly is the state operating a lottery in competition with the mainstream business of this state, gaming," Bible said.

While Nevada was the first state with legal gaming in 1931, it is one of only eight without a state lottery. The constitution has outlawed lotteries since Nevada became a state in 1864.

To amend the constitution, both houses of the Legislature would have to approve Perkins' resolution this year and again in 2007. Voters then would have to approve a lottery on the 2008 ballot.

The Legislature in 2009 would consider legislation on how the lottery would be conducted.

Perkins, D-Henderson, said leaving details of a Nevada lottery to legislators in 2009 should not be an excuse for voting against his lottery resolution.

"I don't think that is really an issue," added Perkins, a likely Democratic governor candidate. "Are people in support of a lottery for education or not?"

But Amodei said the speaker, if he wanted more support for the resolution, should have included details on how the lottery would be conducted in AJR2.

Perkins has emphasized repeatedly that the resolution only gives citizens what they want. Nevadans love lotteries so much, he noted, that the top stores for lottery sales in California are in Truckee, outside of Reno, and just across the Southern Nevada state line from Primm.

"Nevadans already buy lottery tickets," he said. "They buy them in California. California kids have schoolbooks. Nevada kids don't."

Opposition to the lottery in the Assembly mainly was for moral reasons. Several opponents noted they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon Church Media Manager Kim Farah said the church opposes all forms of gambling.

"Experience has clearly shown gambling to be harmful to the human spirit, financially destructive of individuals and families, and detrimental to the moral climate of communities," she said in an official church statement.

The most outspoken opponent was Assemblyman Garn Mabey, R-Las Vegas, who said he opposes a lottery because of the church's moral stance.

Mabey said he can imagine couples with limited money walking into convenience stores to buy food for their children and being tempted into buying lottery tickets.

"The odds are so astronomical against you that you might as well give them the money," Mabey said.

During a committee hearing, Mabey pointed out lottery slogans in other states tempt the poor on the dream of instant riches:

In a Michigan lottery ad, a man stands at the lottery counter and complains that he has a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. Suddenly a lightning bolt leaves his hair singed.

Odds of winning Michigan's Big Game jackpot are 1 in 76 million.

However, Perkins said challenging lotteries on moral grounds is ridiculous in a state that has had legal gambling for generations.

"This isn't going to increase some poor person's gambling habits," said Perkins, himself a Mormon. "It is one additional gaming product. If the poor person is going to gamble, they are going to drop quarters in the poker machines now while on the way to get a gallon of milk at the 7-Eleven."

Las Vegas Review-Journal

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