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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Casinos Still Leery of Lottery

24 January 2005

and Kristen Searer

LAS VEGAS -- Introducing a state lottery could be counterproductive and even hurt the state's primary industry, according to one casino representative.

"It strikes me as an odd public policy for the state to engage in competitive activity with the state's largest industry," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said.

The comments come as state Democrats prepare to introduce legislation to create a state lottery to fund education.

Feldman said consumers already have ample ways to gamble and therefore contribute to state coffers.

"In some respects it seems akin to the state announcing they're going to open a casino," he said.

Lawmakers should concentrate instead on more broadly revamping the state's tax structure "to handle growth over the next few decades," he said.

While several previous attempts at a state lottery have failed in the Legislature, Democratic leaders said Friday that this could be the year one is approved.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she has had several conversations with casino executives in recent months and their reaction to a lottery was more receptive than in previous years.

"In politics everything is timing," she said. "Opinions change, legislators change. I just think the time is ripe now."

Feldman said MGM Mirage would still be open to discussing the idea with legislators this year.

Democrats announced the idea Friday as part of their plan for education. Because the state constitution would need to be amended to create a lottery, the earliest one could start running is 2009.

Then, Democrats said, they would put the money in earmarked accounts for specific purposes: textbooks, instructional supplies, and class size reduction.

That way, taxpayers would know the money was going directly into classrooms, Buckley said.

"I think sometimes people feel money just goes into a black hole," she said.

The lottery could net schools between $30 and $50 million in its first year, according to estimates from the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Democrats hired a consulting firm, GTech Lottery, that estimated a lottery could reap up to $70 million after it has been in place for a few years, Buckley said.

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said he has opposed a lottery previously, including in the 2003 session, when he effectively killed a lottery bill. He said the timing was off before, but he agreed with Buckley that the climate in the state is right for another try.

Right now, 39 states and the District of Columbia have a lottery, according to research done by the Democratic party. Twenty-four states devote at least some of their lottery revenue to education, party officials said.

Casinos Still Leery of Lottery is republished from