Thursday, February 15, 2001

Lottery linkup promoted

Agency director lobbies lawmakers

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The director of the Ohio Lottery urged lawmakers on Wednesday to let his agency join a multistate lottery like Powerball.

        Linking up with another game is the best way to reverse four dismal years of declining lottery revenues and pump up school funding, Dennis Kennedy said.

        The lottery director's appearance before a House panel marked the first public debate of Gov. Bob Taft's controversial plan to link increased lottery sales to education funding.

       • The amount of money the Ohio Lottery has generated for schools has dropped since the 1997 fiscal year, when it pumped in $748.5 million. In 2000, the lottery generated $686 million for schools.
        The governor believes the state could raise an additional $70 million for schools over the next two years if lawmakers let Ohio join a multistate lottery and eliminate rules on lottery profits transfered to schools.

        Although some lawmakers were skeptical, Mr. Kennedy did everything he could to convince them.

        “Players no longer view $4 million, amazingly enough, as a life-changing prize,” Mr. Kennedy said.

        The idea got mixed reviews from members of the House Finance Secondary and Elementary Education Subcommittee, a panel re viewing education funding related portions of Mr. Taft's $44.8 billion budget proposal.

        Rep. Bryan Flannery, D-Lakewood, wondered how long the Ohio Lottery could increase its sales if it joined Powerball, and what the agency would do next.

        “What happens when the excitement dies out in a multistate lottery?” Mr. Flannery asked. “When does this end?”

        Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, D-Shaker Heights, seemed more supportive. He pointed out that Ohioans already are playing multistate games in other states.

        Majority Republicans had little to say, beyond a few factual questions. Chairman Rep. Kerry Metzger, R-New Philadelphia, merely said he's keeping an open mind on the proposal.

        While one faction of lawmakers supports the multistate lotto, another favors putting video lottery terminals at Ohio's seven race tracks. A third group of lawmakers opposes any kind of gambling proposal on moral grounds.

        That view was reflected by the Rev. John Edgar, leader of a coalition of religious groups opposed to gambling proposals. The Rev. Mr. Edgar called the multistate proposal an illegal expansion of the lottery that could help addict children to gambling.

        “Today in Ohio it is much easier for a 14-year-old to buy a lottery ticket than a pack of cigarettes,” he said.

        Mr. Kennedy disagreed.

        “We offer a lotto game right now,” he said. “This is merely the same game with a bigger pool of participants.”

        About video lottery terminals (VLTs), Mr. Kennedy would not offer support or opposition.

        “At this point we don't have any position on VLTs,” he said. “It's not our initiative. It's not in our budget proposal.”


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