Mar 8, 2006, 8:09 am
Mason City TouchPlay outlets took in more than $3.2 million in their machines over the past eight months, with gamblers in Clear Lake throwing in another $663,000, according to an analysis by Lee Enterprises newspapers.
Mason City ranked fourth in the state in TouchPlay receipts.
The Iowa Lottery released financial information on the machines Friday in response to Freedom of Information requests by Lee, The Associated Press and other news organizations.
The information is incomplete. A suit filed to block the release of information by some vendors has resulted in some numbers not being released, pending resolution of the case.
Still, figures available show that Iowans pumped $212 million into the TouchPlay machines statewide over the eight-month period.
Reaction to the information is mixed.
"When you break the numbers out based on how much, given the number of Iowans, is being spent, that number to me is staggering," said Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City. "That's a very high number, considering it's such a short time we've had them."
The Rev. Terry Hamilton-Poore, pastor at First Presbyterian Church and an opponent of state-sponsored gambling, said as entertainment, TouchPlay seems like "a very empty way to spend money."
"The convenience and allure is a temptation. I think what's distressing about the TouchPlay machines is that they're everywhere. You don't have to seek them out," she said.
Still, others believe the machines to be comparatively harmless.
"It's something for our customers," said Doug Fallgatter, owner of Fallgatter's Market in Northwood. "We had a $2,000 winner the other day. It's a little bit of entertainment and you don't have to drive a long way."
Lake Country Inn owner Dave Kurschner agreed. His motel in Clear Lake has two machines.
"We debated for a few days whether we wanted to have them in here or not. We felt it wouldn't harm anything. Someone won $7,500 on it a week ago."
K-Way, a convenience store in Forest City, installed TouchPlay machines about a year ago.
The machines have been "pretty busy," said Michelle Craft, K-Way manager. "People are liking them."
Lines of people are waiting to use the machines on some days, while on other days no one plays them, Craft said.
Forest City Foods installed a TouchPlay machine a week ago.
Doug Gust, manager of the grocery store, would like to add more machines if the Legislature permits it.
"It's something that some of our customers have asked for," he said. "It's a service we are going to provide for as long as we can."
Players seem to have their favorite machines.
Incomplete figures show that the North Federal Kum & Go was the store of TouchPlay choice in Mason City, with almost $781,000 played there over the past eight months.
Clear Lake has six locations with TouchPlay machines, including three Kum & Go stores. The highest wagering is made on the six TouchPlay machines at Ingy's, 313 Main Ave., where players have wagered a total of $245,189.
Law enforcement personnel said few problems have been encountered with the machines - but, they added, it may be too early to tell.
Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals said he has noticed a lot of activity at convenience stores but no problems.
"I know there are people at the stores with machines at all hours," said Pals. "But we haven't had any reports of fights over machines, or anything like that.
"At this point we haven't had any civil papers served due to them," he said. "But it wouldn't surprise me if it happens. It usually takes six months to a year for problems to surface and papers to be filed."
Mason City Police Chief Dave Ellingson said he knew of no problems affiliated with the machines.
Those who help others deal with gambling addictions said they are reserving judgment on what the recently released figures mean.
Ken Zimmerman, director of the Mental Health Center of North Iowa, and Chuck Sweetman, outpatient manager at Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services, expressed a reluctance to draw any major conclusions without knowing more about the study and how it was conducted.
Studies done on risk-taking in general tend to support that people who are falling "behind the curve" financially are more likely to take some risks, Zimmerman said.
"I think it's worthy of scratching our heads about," he said.
Sweetman said the TouchPlay machines tend to appeal to people because of the action involved.
"The allure of winning money is high," he said. "I don't know why Mason City or Cerro Gordo County is high. It says people in the area have an interest in trying their hand at winning. I don't know what else you make of it."
Whatever it means, Fallgatter is one who has found the recent publicity helpful.
"We started with two machines and they took one away (when play was so low)," he said.
"Then all this news is coming out and now it's really caught on. Now, we're putting a second machine back in."
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