Over the opposition of two major gaming corporations, an Assembly committee voted 8-5 Thursday to let voters decide whether to legalize a state lottery.
All Democrats on the Assembly Constitutional Amendments Committee backed Assembly Joint Resolution 5, while all five Republicans opposed it.
Passage of the resolution in the committee is the first step in a long process before Nevada would join 42 other states in having a state lottery. The measure needs approval by both houses of the Legislature this year and again in 2009. Then voters in 2010 would decide whether to legalize a lottery, which has been prohibited since 1864 by the state constitution.
Since 1975, 24 previous attempts to let Nevada voters legalize a lottery have failed in the Legislature. Two years ago a similar resolution won overwhelming support in the Democrat-dominated Assembly and then was defeated by Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Members of that committee said they were concerned a lottery would compete with the gaming industry.
The 2007 Legislature has a similar party breakdown: Democrats have a 27-15 advantage in the Assembly and Republicans an 11-10 edge in the Senate.
Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos unveiled a study during Thursday's meeting that found a Nevada lottery would create 316 new jobs in the state, and lead to the elimination of 595 jobs in the hospitality industry, a net loss of 279 jobs.
Jeremy Aguero, the Applied Analysis researcher who authored the study, also said people with the lowest incomes are more likely to play lotteries.
"Lotteries have the worst odds of legalized gaming known to man," said Aguero, adding that the chanced of winning a lottery are about the same as being killed in a car accident. Aguero's study found that if someone purchased 50 California Super Lotto tickets each week, that person would win the jackpot once every 5,000 years.
Nonetheless, his research found that Nevada would receive about $48 million a year in profits from a state lottery.
Funds from winnings would be earmarked for purchases of textbooks, computers and other instructional materials in Nevada classrooms.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, challenged Aguero's findings. He predicted people would be more willing to play a lottery because the profits would go for education.
"We can do better than the average on a lottery," Conklin said.
Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, chairman of the panel, said he voted against a lottery in 2003 but later learned his constituents overwhelmingly wanted one. He cited a Review-Journal poll that found 73 percent of residents want a state lottery.
"My job is to represent my people, my constituents," said Mortenson, D-Las Vegas.
Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, said, "I heard it every day on the campaign trail."
But Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, said he has never heard any of his constituents call for a state lottery.
During the hearing, school principals and the Nevada State Education Association called for passage of the resolution, saying a lottery could provide additional money for education.
But Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, complained that they were saying Nevada needs more money for education while not giving reasons for legalizing a state lottery. Settelmeyer cited reports that showed the poor in lottery states spend far more of their income on lotteries than those who are better off.
"Isn't there a better way of generating revenue than targeting the poor?" he asked.
Eagle Forum President Janine Hansen said a lottery would lead to more gambling addiction and the dissolution of families.
She said one reason that Utah students perform better academically than Nevada students is because of a higher rate of Nevada families are broken up because of gaming problems. There is no legal gambling in Utah.
"We are really gambling on our children's future with a lottery," Hansen said.