A Senate committee, on a bipartisan vote, approved a measure Tuesday to legalize California's participation in Mega Millions lotto — without the testimony of lottery officials who maintain the multi-state game is already legal.
"They had the audacity not to show up," said Sen. Dean Florez, a Bakersfield-area Democrat who authored the bill.
A group that opposes gambling expansion has filed a lawsuit that alleges Mega Millions participation violates the voter-approved constitutional amendment that they say authorized a lottery only within California. Lawmakers' nonpartisan attorneys agree with the position.
The legislation, on one hand, could pre-empt the lawsuit seeking to shut down the game .
On the other hand, the bill partially matches the group's goals because it would also ban California's one-time interest in expanding into areas such as an international lottery or Internet-based games unless officials' take the matter to voters.
Florez' bill needs the bipartisan support it received Tuesday to gain a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
But Florez said he was able to gain the 8-1 backing in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee only by dropping plans to shift more lottery proceeds from operations to schools.
Republicans opposed tinkering with the voter-approved formula that sends at least a third of profits to education, half to prizes and the remainder to administration of the lottery.
The decision of acting lottery director Chon Gutierrez not to appear at the hearing indicates that lottery officials "think they are autonomous" and "proves the point that they need accountability," Florez said.
A call to Gutierrez' spokeswoman was not returned.
Gutierrez, rather than appearing, sent a note to Florez after the hearing offering his help to the lawmaker if needed.