Attorneys for an antigambling group told a judge Friday that the hugely popular Mega Millions lottery game is illegal because it is not run solely by the state, violating the intent of the 1984 voter initiative authorizing California's lottery.
State officials countered that the 12-state Mega Millions game is just like any other state lottery game. California retains control over the administration of Mega Millions within the state, including how and where tickets are sold, Deputy Attorney General Marc LeForestier told Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly.
The arguments came during a hearing over a lawsuit filed by the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. The group sued the state in July, arguing that the state Lottery Commission overstepped its authority when it voted 3-0 last February to join the multistate game without first getting approval from the legislature.
The group wants Connelly to grant an injunction that would stop Californians from participating.
The Lottery Commission authorized California to join the multistate game as a revenue-raising tool in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's government-reform efforts. It did so despite an opinion from the legislative counsel's office stating that joining the game could violate Proposition 37, the voter-approved measure that established the state lottery.
"We're not crusading. It's a crusade about the democratic process, the initiative process," Nicholas Roxborough, an attorney for the gambling opponents, said outside court. "Why didn't they just wait to go to the legislature?"
Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, has since introduced legislation that would allow California to participate in Mega Millions but require the 11 other states to pay the bulk of administrative costs.
Since California joined Mega Millions at the end of June, two of the four jackpots have been won by Californians, meaning the state has reaped more than it has paid out, California Lottery spokeswoman Norma Minas said. The state has contributed around $33 million to jackpots, but winners here have collected about $169 million, she said.
In November, seven medical workers split a $315 million jackpot, the largest in state history. In all, Californians spent nearly $134 million on the $1 tickets between July 1 and Oct. 31.
The 1984 initiative requires that half the money generated from ticket sales goes toward prizes and at least 34 percent goes to public education, while up to 16 percent can be spent on administration.
Connelly said that although California has control over its portion of the Atlanta-based Mega Millions, it's hard to call it a state lottery when the state must reach agreements with its counterparts in 11 other states about aspects such as the jackpot.
The judge also questioned whether California players are getting a raw deal, because under state law they only have up to six months to claim a prize while players in some other states have up to a year.
With bets pooled from New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, jackpots have surged as high as $360 million.
Connelly gave both sides until Feb. 2 to present additional documents he requested. He said he would issue a ruling sometime after March 1.
Since the state joined Mega Millions, acting California lottery director Chon Gutierrez, a Schwarzenegger appointee, has stepped down and a legislative liaison who reported to him admitted impersonating a reporter to attend a press conference held by gambling foes.