Legislative panel gives thumbs down to lottery monitor games


LITTLE ROCK — The legislative committee that oversees the state lottery expressed disapproval Tuesday of the idea of adding monitor games, though the state Lottery Commission is not bound by the committee’s action.

After hearing a presentation by state Lottery Director Bishop Woosley on monitor games — a subject the Lottery Commission is expected to consider Wednesday — the oversight committee took the unusual step of approving a “motion of non-support” by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana.

The motion passed in a voice vote in which some “no” votes were heard.

Woosley told the board he believes the 2009 state law that established the lottery, after voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow a lottery in 2008, allows the addition of monitor games. He cited a 2013 advisory opinion by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel that said no state law appeared to prohibit monitor games.

He said that if the games are added, players would buy tickets and then have the option of watching on a monitor to see the results of a drawing. Drawings for monitor games typically are held every four minutes, he said.

Keno and Quick Draw are the most played monitor lottery games, Woosley said. He said the Lottery Commission will consider launching a Bingo game.

Woosley said there has been a lot of misinformation about monitor games, with some erroneously claiming the monitors would be interactive.

“As most of you know, in Arkansas we’re prohibited from having any type of interactive monitor, any type of machine that will, based on you touching it, spit out a lottery ticket in any form or fashion,” he said.

Several members of the committee voiced reservations about the idea.

“I don’t know if that’s what people were thinking of when they voted for a lottery,” said Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, the committee’s chairman.

Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said she was concerned that allowing players to play every four minutes would encourage “addictive behavior,” much like slot machines in casinos.

Jerry Cox, president of the Christian conservative Family Council, told the panel that monitor games might not have interactive monitors to begin with, but it would only be a matter of time until someone proposed making them interactive. He also said he could imagine a retailer installing multiple monitors and creating “a little casino.”

Woosley also told the board the commission is exploring the idea of allowing people to use debit cards to buy lottery tickets. The state lottery law currently requires tickets to be purchased with cash, but Woosley said the commission may ask for a change to the law so that the lottery can keep up with the rest of the lottery industry.

Thirty-seven state lotteries allow debit card purchases. Woosley said 10 of them allow retailers to decide whether to permit debit card purchases, which is the approach the Arkansas Lottery Commission is considering.

Polly Martin, president of the Arkansas Grocers and Retail Merchants Association, told the committee the transaction fees on debit cards could make it impossible for some retailers to make a profit if they began accepting debit cards from lottery players. She also said that giving retailers a choice would not matter.

“If your competition across the street takes debit cards, you’re going to have to take them too,” she said.

Woosley said the lottery is looking for ways to boost flagging ticket sales. The lottery’s net revenue for the fiscal year to date was $55.5 million as of the end of March, down from $67.2 million at the same time in 2013, he said.

In February, lottery officials revised their forecast of net revenue for the current fiscal year from $89.5 million down to $82.8 million.

Woosley attributed the declining revenue to a number of factors, including changes to the multi-state Powerball game that raised the ticket price and lowered the odds of winning; a predictable waning of the excitement that followed the lottery’s 2009 launch; and decisions to launch a variety of new offerings in the lottery’s early months instead of saving them to roll out over a period of years.

“We kind of fired all the shots at once,” Woosley said, referring to decisions made under the leadership of his predecessor, Ernie Passailaigue.