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Some Baptists want Texas Lottery Commission shut down

Apr 17, 2012, 7:17 am

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Texas Lottery

As lawmakers look at whether the Texas Lottery Commission is operating effectively, influential Baptists are suggesting the lottery shouldn't merely be tweaked. They want it abolished.

"Ask the pertinent questions. Has the lottery fulfilled its promise? My answer would be 'no,'" said Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist Christian Life Commission, in an interview Friday.

Baptists contend the lottery was sold to Texans 20 years ago as a "voluntary, non-regressive" way to raise money, but instead it preys on the poor and caters to impulse purchases of scratch-off tickets. Attempts to bring in higher-income players with $50 scratch-off tickets haven't worked, they say.

They question whether the lottery has provided a real revenue increase for public education or has simply replaced other revenue sources.

About $1 billion a year from the lottery goes into a public education fund, after prize money, retail commissions and other expenses. Ticket sales in fiscal year 2011 totaled $3.8 billion, most of it coming from scratch-off tickets.

This year lottery sales are running 10 percent ahead of last year and are on track to surpass $4 billion for the year, Gary Grief, the lottery's executive director, told legislators earlier this month. Among top-grossing lotteries in the nation, Texas ranks fourth behind New York, Massachusetts and Florida.

The Texas Lottery Commission is one of several state agencies before the Sunset Advisory Commission, a panel of lawmakers and residents that recommends whether and how to keep an agency running. The full Legislature will make final decisions in 2013.

Although there may be bills next session proposing to do away with the lottery, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the Sunset Commission chairman, warned in a recent public hearing that that isn't the issue his panel is taking up.

"It's our job to make sure agencies are doing their jobs effectively with what they've been tasked to do," he said. "Don't expect that we're going to put a poison pill in the sunset bill to end the lottery."

Sunset Commission staffers recommend continuing the 309-employee Lottery Commission for 12 more years, but with changes. Among the proposals are requiring lottery commissioners to approve major contracts, rather than placing the responsibility solely with the agency's executive director; expanding the commission's governing body from three to five members; and requiring the lottery to develop a comprehensive business plan.

Grief said the Lottery Commission embraces the recommendations.

Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Christian Life Commission, which is part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said the group's request to end the agency is not far-fetched. He noted that legislators a few years ago abolished the controversial Texas Residential Construction Commission.

Legislators have made heavy cuts to many areas of state government, and the lottery should be under consideration for elimination as well, Paynter said.

"I don't think it's unrealistic to talk about it going away," she said. "Things outlive their usefulness, as they say."

Paynter also wants legislators to examine whether there is enough public accessibility to the commission and sufficient competitiveness in awarding contracts.

Three companies made proposals for the most recent lottery operations contract, valued at $747 million over nine years. It was awarded to the incumbent contract holder, Gtech Corp.

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