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Ed Vogel

Nevada Lottery Proposal Rejected

29 March 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Jonathon Koepp and his mother were disappointed Thursday to hear a small committee of senators in Carson City had killed a proposal to legalize a state lottery.

The two Las Vegans had driven from Summerlin to the dusty Primm Valley on the California-Nevada border to buy Super Lotto tickets and a chance at Saturday's $50 million jackpot.

"I don't think it should be left up to the Senate," Koepp said. "The people of Nevada should decide."

The Senate Judiciary Committee, fearful a lottery would compete with the gaming industry for players, voted 5-2 Thursday to scuttle a proposal that would have put the legalization of a state lottery before voters.

The rejection of Assembly Joint Resolution 2 marked the 24th time since 1975 that lawmakers have killed a proposal to remove a constitutional ban on lotteries dating to 1864.

Nevada was the first state to legalize gaming, but is one of only nine without a state lottery.

In voting to kill the lottery proposal, Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, pledged support for putting an extra $50 million in the state budget this year to buy textbooks and supplies for school children.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, primary sponsor of the lottery legislation, had estimated a lottery would have raised $40 million to $70 million a year. The lottery profits would have been earmarked for purchasing textbooks, school supplies and reducing class sizes.

Perkins, D-Henderson, said during the hearing that a lottery likely could not be launched in Nevada before 2010 and offered to resolve the concerns of committee members.

To amend the constitution would have required approval from both houses of the Legislature this year and again in 2007, along with the support of voters in 2008.

After the vote, Perkins said he will try to convince the committee to revive his resolution. "Nothing is dead in the Legislature until we adjourn," Perkins said.

Despite the committee's action, Nevadans will continue to play the lottery, although it is the California lottery, he added.

Greg Drummer, an employee at the Primm Valley Lotto Store, said the venue sells plenty of tickets to Nevadans.

"They wish that Nevada would have one (a lottery) for sure so they wouldn't have to drive out here," he said of his customers who often line up outside the store to purchase the tickets.

Another Las Vegas pair, Tom and Evan Dunlap, waited in line at the store to buy lottery tickets. It would be nice to buy lottery tickets at a local gas station in Las Vegas, they said, but they believe lawmakers have more serious quandaries to solve.

"I don't give a hoot about the lotto," Evan Dunlap said. "I want my property taxes lowered."

Perkins and others have stated repeatedly that the biggest stores for sales of California lottery tickets are those just across the border from Reno and outside of Primm, which is about 40 miles south of Las Vegas.

"Ultimately, the folks who lose today are the people," Perkins said. "Seventy-five percent of them support the lottery."

Earlier this month, the Assembly voted 33-9 in favor of AJR2. The proposal was on the Democrats' must-pass list of bills and resolutions. While the Democrats hold a 26-16 margin in the Assembly, the Republicans have a 12-9 majority in the Senate.

Perkins acknowledged that his candidacy for governor in 2006 might have affected the Senate committee's vote against the proposal.

"There are folks who don't want to see recognition" for a bill's sponsor, he said. "There is always that (danger)."

All four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the resolution, along with Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas. Democrats Steven Horsford and Valerie Wiener, both of Las Vegas, supported AJR2.

Horsford, a freshman lawmaker, was the committee's most vocal advocate of a lottery.

"Here is a proposal that addresses some of the future needs of education," said Horsford. "I do not understand how members of this Legislature would not allow voters to decide if this is an appropriate ways to fund some of the needs of schools."

Clearly irritated by Horsford's comments, Amodei replied that "the other six members of this committee have been here longer than seven weeks" and that it was time for Horsford to get a history lesson. Amodei noted that in 2003 the Legislature approved an $833 million tax increase, whose primary purpose was to fund education.

"I am not going to vote in favor of creating an entirely new industry that directly or indirectly is in the gaming business, creating no new jobs, no tax base, all for the purpose of providing $50 million," Amodei added.

During the hearing, Washington angrily chewed out Nevada State Education President Terry Hickman, repeatedly saying he was "disingenuous" in continuously complaining that the Legislature does not adequately fund schools.

"Every session we get beat up: We aren't funding at the national average; we don't supply books," Washington said. "Let's not play games with it. Fifty three, 54 percent of our budget goes to education. We give a lot of money for education. I think the Legislature is doing the best job it can."

However, Hickman only said Thursday that the lottery was a good way to put additional money in education.

Care complained that no members of the gaming industry testified for or against the resolution. The Nevada Resort Association did not take an official stance on the lottery proposal, although some casinos opposed the plan.

"I think it is rather disingenuous that certain members of the gaming industry, who circulate in the hallways, counting noses and with an obvious intense interest in this issue, fail to appear to testify one way or another," Care said.

For most of the last 30 years, the gaming industry has opposed legalizing a lottery on the grounds it would compete with the state's dominate industry.

Besides Care, Amodei and Washington, opponents to the resolution included Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas.

"I don't know why they're tripping," said Jerry Thomas, a Las Vegan who works in Primm and crosses the border to buy a lottery ticket every day. "If anything, they're going to lose money because people come all the way out here to play."

Staff writer K.C. Howard contributed to this report.