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Court may shut down Mega Millions in California

Nov 28, 2005, 6:43 am

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Mega Millions

California Democrats may yet 'reap what they sow', as they started the effort to shut down Mega Millions soon after it started.

Mega Millions, the multistate lotto game California joined in June, could be shut down Friday if the Schwarzenegger administration loses its battle to keep the game running.

The state-run lottery and an anti-gambling group are set to argue in Sacramento court whether to halt the game as a judge weighs claims by the group and Democratic legislators that voters permitted a lottery only within California.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who backed joining Mega Millions to ease the state deficit, says he isn't worried about the court challenge.

His acting lottery director, Melissa Meith, said the agency "is not relinquishing any operational control."

But Woodland Hills attorney Nick Roxborough, who represents Californians Against Gambling Expansion, said the lottery is "out of control" and "believes it is answerable to no one."

"It's time Californians and their representatives reassert their control and put an end to the bureaucratic haughtinesswhich has been an insult to our democratic process," he said.

The lottery, which gives education a third of its sales revenue, launched Mega Millions with permission of the policy-setting Lottery Commission, appointed by Schwarzenegger.

CAGE filed suit, claiming the commission violated the Lottery Act, approved by voters as Proposition 37 in 1984, by not going to the Legislature or voters themselves for permission to join a multistate lottery.

Amid the controversy, Sen. Dean Florez, a Bakersfield Democrat whose committee oversees the lottery, appealed unsuccessfully for a delay in Mega Millions participation, then saw his bill to authorize the game but bar joining an international lottery blocked by Schwarzenegger.

Meanwhile, two key engineers of importing the game have disappeared from the lottery.

Former Acting Lottery Director Chon Gutierrez, who said proceeding with the game under a legal cloud was a calculated "gamble," retired abruptly.

Schwarzenegger's former special adviser to the lottery, Kim Smith, who admitted to impersonating a reporter to gain lawsuit information, has been shifted to an obscure job-training commission.

Policy-setting lottery commissioners who approved Mega Millions were grilled by legislators when seeking confirmation of their appointments by Schwarzenegger. The commissioners were confirmed after saying they were following what they believed to be sound advice.

The state Attorney General's Office informally advised the lottery to proceed, but a subsequent formal opinion by the Legislative Counsel's Office concluded that joining the game was illegal.

Both sides agree the Lottery Act determines the scope of authority granted to the state lottery.

"But in interpreting that language, respondents (lottery officials) ignore or superficially dismiss the intent of the California voters and Legislature, instead basing their arguments on out-of-state and nonbinding case law, which interpreted and applied substantively different statutory and constitutional language and requirements," according to the CAGE lawsuit.

"A careful review of each of the out-of-state cases discloses that the lottery commissions of those states were granted broad authority to enter into multistate lotteries," it says.

"Conversely, California's constitution and Lottery Act, provide a narrowly defined authority for a limited purpose — creation of a statewide lottery only," according to the suit.

Legal experts are divided over all the ramifications to states and players if Mega Millions was shut down in California because there is no precedent for such a move.

However, the citizens of California, the only ones without a voice in this process, have spoken loudly about their opinion in this matter.  They have been buying Mega Millions lottery tickets, and helping the game achieve record jackpot growth rates.

If the plaintiffs win the legal case against the Governor, they may yet lose when they face the voters.

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