The lottery fix (maybe)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 64 views 

There is always a perceived “prize” or bragging rights for the member of the Arkansas General Assembly filing the biggest and most complex bill every session of the Legislature.

Forget about winning first place in 2015.

State Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., R-Texarkana, has already won the prize for filing a very long, complex bill with the intention to fix the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.

Many of our locally elected officials like to pride themselves, at least back home, on reading “most of the text” of every bill. But few, if any, solons will actually plow all the way through Hickey’s 89-page re-write of the state’s lottery laws.

This past week, Hickey, a sharp and persistent critic of the state’s lottery operations, filed this behemoth of paper. He believes there are problems with the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery’s operations and he wants to change things – big time.

His bill is long. It is longer than the Constitutional Amendment enabling the Legislature to establish the state scholarship lottery. This mountain of paperwork purporting needed changes is nearly four- to- five times as long as the scholarship application itself. And it is much longer than the subsequent paper trail for acceptance from Arkansas’ colleges and universities.

But at the core of the senator straddling the Miller County, Ark., and Bowie County, Texas line is this overriding question: Are we doing what our neighbors down in Texas are doing? Hickey, like some others in our state, think those Texans run a better lottery. Others, who are happy with the results of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, refute these claims.

Within the last month there has been a rival lottery consulting firm issuing a “free report” to Arkansas legislators on how the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is doings. Hickey and some others found this lottery consultant to give a once over of the state’s operation. The consultant found miss-steps have been made at the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.

First off, Arkansans hired a former South Carolina state Senator for a big whopping salary. He and that big payday are now long gone.

Next, the study said the enabling legislation and constitutional amendment passed by the voters that set up a large board of citizens to “oversee” the lottery’s operation was not the best way to manage the lottery operations.

The consultants said the Arkansas Governor’s office needs more clout in the lottery’s operations.

With a new and more conservative governor set to take office, the report firmly said putting the Governor’s office in charge of at least all appointments and naming the Lottery Director would fix things – for now. This new structure, consultants say, will sharpen the focus of folks in charge.

This consultant who offered the study, by the way, is the same outfit that happens to run the Texas lottery. Arkansas has its own well-paid contract with another firm to advise the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery folks how to sell scratchers and other cash games for our young’uns’ college scholarships.

Not everything, one should remember, is bigger or better down in Texas.

Hickey’s behemoth of a bill has two glaring errors which stand out. His proposed bill would place the Internal Auditor answering to the Lottery Director. This is not a good move. We should keep the internal auditor at least arms’ length away and independent of the Director in case things go awry.

And the bill removes an important emergency clause that at any time the Lottery Director or those in the Lottery’s security staff can immediately suspend a retailer. This needs to be a safeguard to prevent high dollar fraud and tampering.

Maybe this 89-page bill will add more pages yet. It’s a big hog to wrestle in the mud but Hickey and his associates from the Texas firm who wrote these changes, if not the bill itself, appear up for the challenge.