Vendor: Adding monitor games could boost lottery revenue

LITTLE ROCK — Adding a monitor game such as keno to the offerings of the state lottery could generate an estimated $18 million a year in ticket sales, officials with lottery vendor Intralot told a legislative panel Tuesday.

The legislative oversight committee on the lottery heard a presentation from Athens, Greece-based Intralot, the lottery’s vendor for draw games, or monitor games, which to date the lottery has not offered. Lawmakers asked for the presentation after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an Oct. 1 advisory opinion that he could find no state law prohibiting monitor games.

The Arkansas Lottery Commission has discussed adding the games previously in considering ways to boost flagging ticket sales. But the panel has never brought the idea to a vote amid opposition, including from Gov. Mike Beebe, who has said he does not believe Arkansas voters had them in mind when they approved the lottery in 2008.

As explained by Intralot officials, a monitor game is a draw game similar to Powerball in which a player picks numbers and can win prizes if those numbers match numbers in a drawing. Unlike Powerball, however, drawings are held every four to five minutes and the player sees the results on a monitor screen.

Fifteen state lotteries currently offer monitor games. The games now in operation have various product names, but all are some variation of keno, poker or horse racing, Scott Hoss, Intralot’s senior marketing manager, told the panel.

Hoss said Intralot believes a better fit for Arkansas would be a “bingo” monitor game.

“You guys are playing bingo right now. You have it in scratch tickets … and then bingo is also played as a charity in bingo halls and churches, that sort of thing,” he said.

Byron Boothe, Intralot’s vice president for governmental relations, said keno often is linked in people’s minds to a casino game. Casinos are illegal in Arkansas.

“From a social point of view, keno may not be the right option here,” he said.

State Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, asked Boothe, “What you’re really saying is, keno’s not played in the … Baptist church but bingo is?”

“That’s right,” Boothe said.

Boothe said bars and taverns in the state would be more likely to become lottery retailers if they could offer monitor games. He also said Intralot would cover start-up costs to add a monitor game.

Hoss said monitor games typically have a higher return for the state than traditional draw games. He estimated that a bingo game could bring in $18 million a year in ticket sales if 250 to 300 retailers offered it.

His testimony came during a hearing in which Lottery Director Bishop Woosley told the committee that the lottery’s net proceeds for the fiscal year as of Oct. 31 were $1.1 million lower than they were a year earlier.

Some critics have likened the games to Las Vegas-style slot machines.

Woosley declined to comment on the presentation after the hearing, saying Intralot has not yet pitched the idea to the Lottery Commission. The company plans to do so at a future meeting.

Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, co-chairman of the committee, said after the hearing that he believed adding monitor games would create “a lot of opportunity for additional revenue for scholarships.”

Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, a member and former co-chairman of the committee, said the attorney general’s opinion relieved some of his concerns about monitor games, but he said he remains “skeptical.”

“I just would need to see a little bit more about it,” he said.