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NJ lawmakers cool to idea of selling lottery

Jul 25, 2006, 10:09 am

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New Jersey Lottery

Part 3 of a 3-part look at the New Jersey Lottery

In a state bleeding red ink and desperately needing a cash infusion to pay down growing debts, it sometimes seems like almost anything could come up for sale.

In the name of quick cash, lawmakers have floated ideas for selling state buildings and iconic roads. In a smaller gesture aimed at squeezing out some dollars to balance the books, Gov. Jon S. Corzine recently stood in a field of used state cars to promote their sale.

So what about the state lottery?

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in the midst of a re-election campaign, recently proposed selling or leasing his state's lottery, with the aim of quickly raising $10 billion to fund education.

Key New Jersey lawmakers are not so eager to see the same plan here.

Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Metuchen, chairwoman of the Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, said the state is already reaping benefits from the lottery and would not want to endanger those profits.

"It just seems to me that we would be trading the state's fourth-largest revenue producer that funds some very vital programs, such as college scholarships, programs for disabled veterans, in exchange for a short-term infusion of dollars, and that's not something I could support," Buono said.

New Jersey expects to receive $846 million from the lottery in the budget year that began this month and ends next June 30, although that estimate came before this month's government shutdown closed ticket machines for a week. That may have cost the state $12 million in revenue.

The money is dedicated to programs such as aid to colleges, operation of state psychiatric hospitals, a school for the deaf, veterans' nursing homes and school construction.

Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Upper Township, chairman of the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee, said he would want to ensure that lottery drawings continue fairly and cleanly.

"Our casino industry and our lottery is pure to a fault. It is absolutely 100 percent, 101 percent, clean," Van Drew said. "We really want to maintain that cleanliness, as it were."

The Corzine administration said it's happy with the lottery's current status.

"We are very pleased with the operations and profitability of New Jersey Lottery," Treasurer Bradley Abelow said. "We are aware that other states are looking at their lottery operations in different ways, and we routinely monitor these activities to determine what models might make sense in New Jersey."

In Illinois, Blagojevich sold his proposal as a creative way to fund an ambitious schools program.

The plan's critics, however, said the state would be giving up the annual revenue stream the lottery currently generates. In 2005, the Illinois lottery gave the state $614 million out of its $1.8 billion in sales, according to data from the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

New Jersey's lottery returned $812 million to the state on $2.3 billion of sales in 2005. It cost the state $80.7 million to run the games.

Other New Jersey lawmakers have floated ideas from selling the New Jersey Turnpike to the Atlantic City Expressway, in various forms. None of those proposals have gained steam.

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