Nevada may be a gambling state but a Senate panel decided on a 5-2 vote Thursday that a lottery is one game of chance the state can do without.
Sens. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, cast the only "yes" votes as the proposed constitutional amendment for a lottery to fund education was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
AJR2 would have had to pass this session and again in 2007 before going to a vote of the public in 2008.
"I've only been here seven weeks but I have yet to hear one proposal come forward, other than this one, that proposes to address the future needs of the tremendous growth that will occur in our public education system in Nevada," said Horsford, a freshman lawmaker who was a chief co-sponsor of the resolution.
"I do not understand in good conscience how members of this Legislature would not allow a proposal to go forward and to allow the voters to decide whether or not this is an appropriate way to fund some of the needs of our schools."
Proponents of AJR2 argued that the state's share of revenue from a lottery would help pay for textbooks, school supplies and smaller public school classes. Nevada is near the bottom of the national list in per-pupil funding and teacher-to-student ratios, among other things.
Educators predict enrollment growth of 4.7 percent in public schools in the coming fiscal year and nearly 4.2 percent the following year, swelling the student population to 422,500 by mid-2007.
The strongest opposition to AJR2, which already had won Assembly approval, came from Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, who said Nevada should fund education from other sources. For now, he suggested lawmakers commit $50 million of the state's surplus money - the same amount a lottery would likely provide in annual state profits - for additional one-shot funding for schools.
Washington criticized educators who favored the resolution for saying lawmakers are not adequately funding education. He said the Legislature spent last session and two special sessions trying to increase education funding.
"If you want a state lottery just say, 'We want a state lottery,' and let's not play games with it," he said, adding, "It's disingenuous when you come up here and sit before us and tell us that we're not doing our jobs."
He also said it was hypocritical for parents to support a lottery while saying they would not support a personal state income tax.
Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said he would be glad to earmark $50 million, but "I am not going to vote today for creating an entirely new industry that puts the state directly, as opposed to indirectly, in the gaming business, creates no jobs, creates no tax base."
"It does none of those things, all for the purpose of providing $50 million to a worthy cause which I believe exists in the budget already."
While Nevada's casino industry has opposed a lottery in the past, arguing that it would cut into other gambling-related revenues, nobody from the industry spoke for or against the latest proposal. The effort this session was the 23rd attempt since 1975 to authorize a lottery.
Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, who joined four Republicans on Judiciary to kill AJR2, said he was disappointed that the industry didn't take a stand this session.
"I think it's rather disingenuous that certain members of the gaming industry would circulate the hallways counting noses, obviously having an intense interest in this issue, and fail to appear whether they're for or against this measure, fail to appear here and testify one way or the other," Care said.
Care said he voted against the measure partly because he is concerned that those who can least afford to play the lottery are the ones who would buy tickets.
Terry Hickman, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said he was disappointed with the vote.
"The need was well established with testimony from parents and teachers, and the reaction (from lawmakers) was, 'We will work to solve the problem'," Hickman said after the hearing. "Well, we've heard that before. There have been a lot of promises."
Several proponents had advocated joining the multistate Powerball game, which generates about $2 billion in sales in 27 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Nevada is one of nine states without a lottery. A poll conducted by the Reno Gazette-Journal in late January showed 76 percent of 600 likely Nevada voters support creation of a lottery.