Includes video report
The Wyoming Senate voted 18-10 Friday for a bill to allow a state lottery and multi-state games such as the Powerball.
However, the bill designates revenue from the games for long-term school improvements, contrary to the bill as it came from the House. The revised measure will return to the House.
The Senate approval came after years of attempts for a lottery that only got as far as the House. This year the Senate took House Bill 177 and changed the recipients of the revenue, estimated at $6 million or more per year.
The bill as it passed the House dedicated the money to municipalities, hamlets and counties. The Senate adopted an amendment to deposit the money in the Common School Permanent Land Fund instead.
The House will consider the Senate changes, and the matter is likely to be referred to a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out differences or drop it.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, had offered the school-fund amendment earlier without success. On Friday he succeeded. He said the proponents of the lottery designated local governments as recipients of the money to gain support for the bill and local officials did not lobby for it.
The revenue would amount to little when divided up among the municipalities, counties and hamlets. "I doubt that the people in Hulett or anywhere else will feel this is enough to even fill one pothole," Nicholas said.
Putting the money in the permanent fund will be an endowment account for the future of schools, he said.
Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, the main sponsor of the measure, said he knew there would be disagreement over where the money should go. "I would like to hope that we won't lose the bill over that, but it is possible," he said.
One of the strongest statements in opposition to the bill came from Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, who said nearly all of his constituents opposed the bill. He said that since he has been in the Legislature he has has seen all kinds of programs, including entitlement programs, subsidies, food stamps and reduced school lunches to help disadvantaged people.
"I get this image in me of standing in line at the grocery story going through the checkout with my a sack of groceries and someone in front of me pulls out food stamps to pay the bill and then pulls out $10 or $20 to buy lotto tickets.
"A lot of our citizens are on the dole. And it's not their money; it's our money," he said. "It's wrong to say, 'We'll subsidize you here so you can spend money in other ways.'"
The lottery marketing people, he said, are good at trying to get "money from the poor peasants in the field by saying, 'We'll make it fun and exciting and we'll prey on their hopes.'"
The bill sets up a quasi-state corporation and nine-member board with the responsibility of raising funds and developing a business plan for the lottery.
Sponsors say the corporation must stand or fail on its own. The Senate amended the proposal to prohibit the corporation from getting any state money.
The bill also dedicates $200,000 in unclaimed winnings to the Wyoming Department of Health to treat people with gambling addictions.
If it passes, the bill would go into effect July 1.
VIDEO: How the process would work to determine what games would be played.