LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As state higher education officials mail out notices to the first recipients of Arkansas' lottery-funded college scholarships, a group that fought creation of the lottery says it is gearing up to start its anti-lottery campaign anew.
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Christian conservative Family Council, says the group is making the lottery its No. 1 issue for next year's legislative session.
The group has drafted two bills that would impose limits on lottery operations and will push for their passage in the 2011 session. The group also plans to create an anti-lottery website and has launched a fundraising campaign for its effort to, as Cox said in a letter asking for donations, "start our lottery fight anew."
"At this time the lottery legislation is at the top of our list," Cox said in an interview last week. "And just because we have these two bills, that doesn't mean that these are the only bills that may be offered."
The Family Council has set a modest fundraising goal of $1,000. That would be enough for "seed money" to get the projects started and would show that the public is interested, Cox said.
The measures the Family Council want the Legislature to pass would ban lottery ticket vending machines and ban all lottery advertising.
Cox said the Family Council opposes the lottery's plans to use vending machines mainly because of concerns that underage people will use the machines.
The machines will check users' ID for their age, but "it's real simple for a 15-year-old to find an 18- or 19-year-old that will loan him a driver's license," Cox said.
Lottery officials have said the machines will be monitored to ensure that they are not used by people under 18.
Cox said that if lottery officials are sincere when they say that the lottery's sole purpose is to raise money for college scholarships and that their goal is not to sell lottery tickets to every adult in the state, then they should have no problem with eliminating advertising.
"If they're all about providing money for scholarships, why not take that advertising money and pay for more scholarships to go to college?" he said.
Legislators who have worked on lottery-related issues said any proposal to ban lottery advertising isn't likely to get far.
"Banning all advertising is just crazy," said Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, co-chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the lottery.
Hyde said that without advertising, sales "would really suffer."
"That's something I don't think you're going to get any traction with," he said.
"It's kind of like selling anything else," said Sen. Mary Anne Salmon, D-North Little Rock, a member of the oversight committee. "If you don't let people know what's there, they don't buy, and if they don't buy, we don't have scholarship money."
Regarding the use of vending machines, Hyde said legislative researchers are conducting a study on that topic.
"Depending on that research, I think I'll move farther along on formulating an opinion on the vending machines," he said.
State Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, who unsuccessfully pushed for an interim study on abolishing the lottery, said the Family Council's ideas are good ones. She said the state should not be in the business of encouraging people through advertising to gamble.
"We make money off of cigarettes, but we're not out there encouraging people to buy them," she said.
Asked if she would vote for the measures, Madison said, "I may file them myself."
She said she had not been contacted by the Family Council, however.
Hyde said he believes the Family Council is just trying to undermine the lottery, which he said is hard to understand. He noted that in 2008 Arkansans voted nearly 3-1 to approve a constitutional amendment to create a lottery to fund college scholarships.
"We're in the process of awarding some 25,000 to 30,000 scholarships," he said. "Many of those are going to people who without it would not have an opportunity to go to college and have an opportunity to advance themselves. I can't figure out why somebody would want to continue to try to undermine that success."
Cox said it isn't the scholarships the Family Council objects to, but that the money is being raised in a way the group believes is harmful to families.
"We're going to continue opposing the lottery because it's still bad. I think I would be irresponsible if I didn't do that," he said.