The state lottery said Thursday it would continue selling Mega Millions tickets as it fights an anti-gambling group's lawsuit that seeks an immediate shutdown on the grounds the multi-state game is unconstitutional in California.
But a state senator said an uphill legal battle ultimately could cost schools hundreds of millions of dollars and permanently damage the lottery's reputation.
"The lottery is going into court with a fairly weak case," said state Sen. Dean Florez, a Bakersfield-area Democrat who held an emergency hearing to try to head off the June 22 launch of Mega Millions.
"Rather than seeking the statutory authority needed to enter into a multi-state game like the 11 other Mega Millions participating states, the lottery commissioners and acting director took a big gamble, although the overwhelming evidence demonstrated it was illegal," Florez said.
The voter-approved state Lottery Act of 1984 was written by a scratch-off ticket maker in lotto's infancy and before multi-state lotteries. The Legislature's attorneys say the constitutional amendment authorizes games only within California's borders. The state attorney general ruled otherwise.
Nicholas Roxborough, an attorney for the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion that sued for
an injunction in a Sacramento court Wednesday, said California voters "should have the right to determine whether or not participation in this multi-state venture serves the interests of California's education system and citizens."
The Lottery Act also can be amended by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Officials, who launched the game to boost sales and contributions to schools, said they were prepared to deal with the lawsuit as they continue Mega Millions sales. "It's business as usual," said lottery spokeswoman Rosa Escutia.
The coalition's lawsuit also alleges lottery officials rushed approval of the game in California, without proper scrutiny. Lottery officials deny that.
In Mega Millions, players pay $1 to pick six numbers from 1 to 52 to match those drawn twice weekly. Bets in California are pooled with the 11 existing Mega Millions states.