Interests of capitalism, morality sometimes clash


Capitalism sometimes clashes with the interests, even the morality of potential customers.

One example is before the Arkansas General Assembly, which opened a special session Monday, with three items on its call list. One item, a late addition to the call, is Senate Bill 2, filed Monday by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana.

SB 2 would prohibit the Arkansas Lottery Commission from offering a “multi-draw screen-based lottery game” because, the proposal reasons, such games are beyond the scope of what voters anticipated when they approved the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Act.

The Lottery Commission is dealing with dwindling revenues from the various games it offers to consumers, and that means reduced revenues to fund college scholarships for Arkansas students. The commission recently lowered its forecast for the current fiscal year to $80.5 million, the year’s third reduction. The lottery raised more than $100 million for scholarships in its first year, 2009-10, but each year the amount has dropped.

Lottery officials now are looking at fast-moving monitor games, such as keno and quick-draw, to bring in more money.

The Arkansas Lottery is not really a capitalistic enterprise, but here’s where that issue comes up: Two main opponents of lottery monitor games are the businesses that run race tracks at Oaklawn and Southland, whose lobbyists have been busy gathering sympathy from lawmakers. They have apparently succeeded.

You see, Oaklawn and Southland are running their own “electronic games of chance” in legalized casino monopolies, and they have developed into billion-dollar enterprises. And the new Oaklawn Anywhere system, authorized by the Legislature last year, allows gamblers to deposit money into online accounts and then make wagers by phone or computer on live races or simulcast races at Oaklawn. Southland had similar authority but hasn’t set it up yet.

We wouldn’t want the lottery scholarship program to take money away from those businesses.

Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, recently proposed a bill to repeal the “anywhere” authority — obviously a strategic move to help the lottery — but it didn’t make the call.

Another current issue that involves competing capitalistic and moral issues is the push for an Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment and for wet-dry elections in certain dry counties.

An organization with strong financial backing from Wal-Mart interests and Kum & Go, the convenience store operator, has dual campaigns going. One effort is gathering signatures on a petition to get an initiative on the Nov. 4 general election ballots to allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” statewide.

A committee called Our Community, Our Dollars, using the same company gathering signatures on the state initiative, is pushing petition drives for local options in Craighead, Faulkner and Saline counties. Petitions are available at Wal-Mart, Sam’s and Kum & Go stores.

Obviously, Wal-Mart and Kum & Go would like to sell alcoholic beverages at their stores in the now dry counties so that’s one element of this capitalistic controversy.

Many citizens have a moral objection to the sale of alcoholic beverages anywhere, which has long been a factor in keeping a majority of Arkansas counties “dry.” Some of them are now organizing to fight the “wet” forces.

But here’s where the campaign gets fuzzy. The Arkansas Times reports that much of the money to fight the Faulkner County petition drive is coming from alcoholic beverage dealers in neighboring Conway County, who have a financial motivation rather than a moral one. And Jonesboro television station KAIT reported recently that four liquor store dealers in Greene and Poinsett counties had contributed $40,000 in the effort to keep Craighead County dry.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Kum & Go has apparently become involved in another controversy in Jonesboro. Downtown home and business owners have launched a campaign to stop the West Des Moines, Iowa-based corporation from building a station on a large Main Street lot that once housed a Baptist church.

Although Main Street has many commercial businesses, most of them locally owned, in the blocks to the north, the former Baptist property is surrounded by new and well-preserved older homes, and a couple of churches, as well as some professional offices, are nearby. A gas station once operated about a block away but is long gone.

Kum & Go, which has more than 400 stores in 11 states, has been expanding aggressively in several Arkansas communities, including Jonesboro, with a “neighborhood store” concept.

However, Jared Woodard, president of the Downtown Jonesboro Association, last week issued a position paper to “vehemently voice our opposition” to the idea of a convenience store at Main and Cherry. “A large gas station has no place in the middle of our historic homes, beautiful churches and downtown life,” he wrote.

Making money is not always easy.

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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.