Lottery director advocates allowing ticket purchases with debit cards

LITTLE ROCK — The cash-only restriction on lottery ticket purchases is excluding a segment of the population that doesn’t carry cash, state Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said Monday.

Woosley said during the state Lottery Commission’s regular monthly meeting that he favors allowing people to use debit cards to buy lottery tickets. Also Monday, a committee of the Lottery Commission endorsed the idea of increasing employees’ mileage reimbursement rates. The full commission did not take action on either matter.

State law requires retailers to accept cash only for lottery tickets, but Commissioner Mark Scott of Bentonville asked Woosley on Monday about the possibility of allowing purchasers to use debit cards. Scott said he was in a Bentonville convenience store last week and saw a clerk refuse to let a customer add a lottery ticket to other purchases the customer was making with a debit card.

“I would like us to do debit cards,” Woosley said. “That was one of my ideas when I was interviewed for director.”

Woosley said that to him “cash” could include debit cards, but that may not be how others would interpret the law. He said he could ask legislators to change the law if the commission were to direct him to do so.

He also noted that there has been “some pushback” to the idea from retailers who are concerned about transaction fees, but he said that problem could be overcome by letting retailers decide whether to accept debit cards or letting them set a minimum purchase amount.

In March 2012, when the legislative oversight committee on the lottery was considering Woosley’s salary, members asked Woosley about his idea regarding debit cards. Then-Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper, said at the time that he wanted to go on record as opposing the idea. The Family Council, a Christian conservative group that opposed the creation of the lottery, has also spoken against the concept.

Woosley told the commission that as of Oct. 31 the lottery had netted $24.1 million for college scholarships in the fiscal year that began July 1, falling short of the projected amount of $25.2 million. Revenues from instant-win tickets were below projections but revenue from draw games was above projections, he said.

The lottery could make up the difference in early 2014, Woosley said.

“The end of January is usually pretty big,” he said. “February, March and April, as any lottery director will tell you, is when you make your year. That will tell me whether or not we’re going to hit $90 (million for the year).”

Before the full commission met Monday, its Retail and Marketing Committee voted to recommend that the full commission consider increasing employees’ mileage reimbursement rate from 42 cents per mile, the rate that state employees at other agencies now receive, to 56 1/2 cents per mile, the standard federal rate.

Commissioner Doug Pierce of Jonesboro said the lottery’s marketing and sales representatives travel an average of 21,000 miles per year, or 6,000 more miles than the average American motorist. Raising the rate for all lottery employees would increase reimbursement expenses from $2,580 to $3,200 for every mile driven, with 99 percent of the increase going to the sales representatives, he said.

The committee made a similar recommendation to the full commission in September, but the commission tabled the matter.