Larger-than-usual audiences met with Iowa legislators Saturday to hear what's going on at the Statehouse and to share their own concerns.
About 40 people crowded into the Larson Conference Hall at Muscatine Community College to see state Sens. Tom Courtney and Jim Hahn and Reps. Jeff Kaufmann, Nathan Reichert and Tom Sands.
Later, in Wapello, there were 19 area residents visiting with Courtney and Sands. That's twice the usual number who usually gather at the annual forums held in Louisa County.
Some 20 years after the lottery became legal in Iowa, it was a major topic at both forums because of the appearance of Iowa Lottery TouchPlay machines in convenience stores, bars and other businesses in Iowa.
Lawmakers approved TouchPlay machines in 2002.
Courtney, D-Burlington, is the Democratic whip and serves on the Government Oversight and Rules and Administration committees, which have both addressed the issue. He said he is personally against gambling, but understands that the machines are making money for small businesses.
"I get a lot of calls and e-mails from small business owners who say they are making money," Courtney said. "They say 'please don't take it away.' We've got to look at both sides. We will spend a lot of time on it."
Courtney said surveys show that Iowans are generally split on the TouchPlay issue and he has heard arguments both for and against TouchPlay gambling. He predicts that the legislature will probably limit the number of machines and address ways to keep young people away from them
Courtney said Edward Stanek, the Iowa Lottery director, told the Government Oversight Committee the state has about 5,000 of the machines in use and another 5,500 ordered. Those machines are anticipated to bring in about $45 million for state's general fund this year.
Courtney said lawmakers might also look at the possibility of having a card-swipe device put on the TouchPlay machines so a person would have to swipe a driver's license in the machine, which would determine whether that person is old enough to legally play.
Sands, D-Columbus Junction, said he believes the Iowa Legislature might also combine the lottery commission with the racing and gaming commission.
Gov. Tom Vilsack ordered the Iowa Lottery to halt distribution of TouchPlay gambling machines in early January while a six-member task force examines the legality and impact of the machines. That decision is expected in March.