According to one legislative lawyer, California's much-heralded entrance into the 11-state Mega Millions lottery may be illegal, even as outlets around the state prepare for the debut of the popular game.
Lottery Director Chon Gutierrez was told by legal advisers when California joined Mega Millions that the move to revitalize the state's languishing lottery was legal because it advanced the education-benefiting cause of the voter-approved Lottery Act of 1984.
Around the state, locations for buying future tickets have already begun to post signs advertising the upcoming start of the game.
Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine issued a 12-page opinion on Tuesday which concludes "the Lottery Act contains no express provisions authorizing participation of the California State Lottery in a multi-state lottery."
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, has scheduled a news conference for today to formally release the opinion, which he requested from the Counsel's Office. He also plans to challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Lottery Commission to deal with what he said looms as a political and legal landmine.
"We ought to make sure we don't end up in protracted litigation," said Florez, who is chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. "I think the integrity of the game is in balance."
Schwarzenegger representatives declined to comment and lottery officials said they wanted to first study the document and confer with the administration before issuing a statement.
In the new Mega Millions game matrix that will debut on June 24, players pay $1 to pick five numbers from 1 to 56 plus one number from 1 to 46, to match those drawn twice weekly.
With bets pooled from New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington, jackpots have surged as high as $363 million.
The legislative counsel's opinion noted that the intent of voters who approved the Lottery Act was that the games be run solely by California, according to the document, co-authored by Deputy Legislative Counsel Lisa Plummer.
Furthermore, there is no provision in the Lottery Act that authorizes the sharing of prize money from tickets purchased from out of state from a non-California authorized dealer, they said.
"Therefore, we are of the opinion that the California State Lottery does not possess the authority under existing statutes to enter into an agreement with Mega Millions for participation in a multi-state lottery," concluded the opinion.
Although the opinion from lawmakers' attorneys is not binding, some people feel that flouting its conclusion may invite lawsuits from competing gambling interests such as Indian casinos and card rooms, as well as anti-gambling forces.
If necessary, the law could be changed with another vote of the people or if a bill was approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and signed by the governor.