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Erin Neff

Democrats to Propose Lottery for Nevada

25 January 2005

Democratic legislative leaders on Friday proposed yet another attempt to enact a state lottery -- this one to fund education.

The bill, with the support of Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, Majority Leader Barbara Buckley and Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, will seek a lottery to fund classroom materials like textbooks and class-size reduction.

"Nevadans are tired of being at the bottom of the list when it comes to education," said Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

Attempts to enact a state lottery have proven unsuccessful since they were first floated in the 1970s.

In 2001, a lottery bill passed the Assembly 38-4, but died in a Senate committee. In 2003, the lottery bill didn't even get out of its Assembly committee.

The Democrats cited woeful education statistics, including a Quality Counts study ranking Nevada 48th in per-pupil funding and a Department of Education finding that 23 percent of Nevada fourth-graders and 20 percent of eighth-graders were proficient or better in math.

Perkins, D-Henderson, said his travels throughout the state as chairman of an interim education committee showed him a "crisis in our classrooms."

"This takes the politics out of the education funding debate," Perkins said.

Estimates show a lottery could generate $30 million to $50 million a year in profit. Buckley said the bill will specify that the funds cannot supplant other funding and must be segregated into an account with specified spending targets.

The state's constitution specifically bars a lottery and the gaming industry has consistently opposed the measure.

Perkins said he does not anticipate outward opposition to the bill from the gaming industry.

In order to amend the constitution, the bill must pass the Legislature in 2005, and again in 2007, before going before voters in 2008.

In past sessions, lotteries were criticized for disproportionately impacting low-income people.

"If someone thinks it's great entertainment to spend $1 on a lottery ticket, that's their choice," Buckley said.

The lottery proposal is one of several that will emerge as priorities for legislative Democrats in the coming weeks. Other proposals will include support of increasing the minimum wage, a unified stance on the property tax crisis, health insurance plans and mental health funding.

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