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State lottery friends, foes prepare for vote

Oct 21, 2008, 10:30 am

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Arkansas Lottery

A proposal to fund scholarships through an Arkansas state lottery is keeping supporters and opponents busy as Election Day nears.

Now that the state Supreme Court ruled the proposal can remain on the statewide ballot, Arkansas voters will get a chance to vote on a state lottery proposal supported by Bill Halter, Arkansas' lieutenant governor.

Halter proposed a state constitutional amendment to create a state lottery to pay for college scholarships and teacher bonuses.

Under the proposal, a state legislative resolution would create an Educate Arkansas Trust Fund to collect proceeds from a lottery.

After prizes and expenses, the trust fund would be used for scholarships to two-year and four-year colleges and universities, as well as for vocational training programs in the state.

Also, the trust fund would be used for bonuses for public-school teachers who teach in and live in the state.

Funds paying for the scholarships and grants would add to, but not replace, existing state funding for education.

The proposal to create a state lottery is something many Arkansas voters have not focused on much before now, but Halter and other supporters will be campaigning through Nov. 4 — Election Day — to make sure voters learn about the proposal now, Halter said.

"We're going to try to make them aware of it," he said.

The lottery is a chance for Arkansas voters to get a new funding source for scholarships, something that will aid the state in moving from its 49 th-place national ranking in education, Halter said.

As of now, many Arkansans already go across state lines — to Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere — to buy lottery tickets in other states' lotteries, and they wind up sending money to other states and often helping to pay to educate students in those states, Halter said.

Arkansans might just as well get the benefit of the money now going elsewhere, the lieutenant governor said.

John Thomas, vice president of the Family Council Action Committee, an anti-lottery group, is working hard against Halter's proposal.

The Action Committee and other groups opposing the lottery have come together to defeat it, and Thomas and others are working hard to get the anti-lottery word out, he said.

"We've got yard signs; we've got flyers. We're primarily trying to get our message out in a grass-roots way. We've got a little bit of money for a media campaign — not a whole lot," Thomas said.

Through grass-roots contacts with lottery opponents in churches and other organizations, the group will try to expand its mailing list of about 10, 000 Arkansas households, Thomas said. "We'll try to expand on that, working with other coalitions and other groups that are with us on this issue. It's just a matter of getting our campaign material in their hands — getting our yard signs in their hands, our push cards, flyers — all that. It's a grass-roots campaign from beginning to end," he said.

He and others in his coalition fear a state constitutional provision that now bans a lottery — Article 19 Section 14 — will be removed with passage of the proposed lottery amendment, Thomas said.

On Oct. 13, representatives of the Family Council argued before the state Supreme Court that the lottery proposal should, but does not, tell voters that part of the state constitution — a portion usually interpreted as banning state-owned casinos — would be removed with passage of the lottery amendment, Thomas said. While people form every income range and education range play the lottery, lower-income, less-educated players are overrepresented among players of the lottery, Thomas said. And that's not true of other forms of gambling, he said.

In the view of Family Council members, even if the Arkansas state lottery proposal is approved by voters, Arkansans will still cross state lines to play the lottery in other states, Thomas said. That's because other state lotteries' prize money will be larger than that of the Arkansas lottery, he said.

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