Not a lot of mystery lies ahead in how the upcoming special session will unfold. Most of the details regarding some changes to the teacher insurance and additional funding for prison beds have already been hammered out. The biggest question remaining is whether the state legislature will take steps to block the Arkansas Lottery from being able to expand gambling in the state by offering keno style games.
The Lottery Commission met on Wednesday and it was apparently full steam ahead with their desire to begin offering these “monitor games.” The new product would be a more of an instant style of playing the lottery with drawings every few minutes displayed on monitors in retail stores. Director Bishop Woosley advised the Commission that he may have to negotiate with the state legislature on the details of these and asked for some latitude. But at least one lottery commissioner was not too big on the idea.
“If they want to negotiate, I think they ought to come over here and stand right up here and negotiate,” Lottery Commissioner Bruce Engstrom told the Arkansas News Bureau.
“Maybe this will help clear up some of the confusion: I’m not interested in negotiating,” responded Sen. Jonathan Dismang on twitter. “The lottery is failing. Monitor games would be at best a temporary prop and problems run much deeper.”
In addition, several groups are gearing up to press for legislation that would prohibit the expansion of lottery games – some from expected and unexpected sources.
“Keno is a highly-addictive, rapidly played (every four to five minutes) draw game utilizing television monitors in bars, taverns, airports, and similar venues. There is virtually no likelihood that Arkansas voters had a game like keno in mind when they approved a state lottery in 2008. It bears no resemblance to a traditional lottery. The lottery commission is stepping way over the line in trying to bring keno to our state,” wrote Larry Page with the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council which represents several denominations, church, and individuals on social conservative issues.
Page encouraged members of his organization to contact their legislators and ask them to support legislation that would prohibit the state’s lottery commission from proceeding with its intentions to add keno and similar games.
Another unlikely group supporting legislation that would prohibit the monitor games could also be working behind the scenes.
The powerful lobbies of Oaklawn and Southland Park would prefer to maintain their casino monopolies they currently enjoy thanks to the growth of so called “electronic games of skill” over the past decade. In 2013, Southland took in $2 billion and Oaklawn took in $1 billion due to casino-themed EGS games like blackjack, poker, and slot machines. It is likely that their lobbyists will be busy and quietly working over the next week.
The dynamic between the state legislature and lottery commission will be an interesting subplot during this short special session. The power struggle is nothing new. The Arkansas Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee – which primarily has financial oversight over the lottery – often has had policy issues different from the Commission, particularly in the days of former director Ernie Passailaigue. The Oversight Committee meets on Monday afternoon shortly before the special session kicks off. You can bet keno will be on the table.
UPDATE – On Friday, Gov. Beebe added to his call legislation banning the lottery from using electronic monitors saying he was “supplied with evidence of sufficient legislative support” for the ban.