Sunday, March 12, 2006

TouchPlay Payout

Nobody knows what to expect as the TouchPlay debate moves out to the floors. Legislators went home over the weekend, and a good number attended county conventions where the Party faithful showed up with opinions.

The anti-TouchPlay movement was obvious at the GOP conventions, Nussle/VanderPlaats team asked county conventions to approve a rip-‘em-out plank with the goal of landing it on the state GOP platform. It's understood that a good number of counties already had anti-gambling and/or anti-TouchPlay planks in their proposed county platforms, so the organized effort to move the anti-gambling TouchPlay plank must be the start of a campaign play. (I have a hunch where the N-VP team might be going, but I’ll save it for my own head.)

Everyone’s back to the Statehouse on Monday to shake out this debate after a weekend of high-pressure phone calls and a little soul searching. It’s not an easy vote, or at least it shouldn’t be an easy vote. The curious thing is that the guys at top of the Iowa political food chain are allowing this issue to free float; neither Democrat leaders nor Republican leaders are pushing their caucuses to vote a certain way on TouchPlay. However, the procedural maneuvers provide a few clues.

The House announced last week that TouchPlay would run the floor on Tuesday, and, by all reports, it seems as if a majority intend to vote for a hard ban on TouchPlay. After the House announced their plans, the Senate decided to bum rush the House, passed their bill banning TouchPlay out of committee on Thursday, and scheduled floor debate for Monday. Everyone is assuming that we'll see a pile of amendments to the Senate bill. Most of these amendments will be from the TouchPlay lobbyists attempting to mold the hard ban into something acceptable to TouchPlay deep pockets.

From what I’ve read, the Senate Democrats are squishy on the ban, they like the revenue, and, my guess, Gronstal has to prove he can pull a corporate friendly bill through the Senate. This is a good test for potential Majority Leader Gronstal; the “business interest” lobby needs proof that he’ll move some of their less popular issues as Senate Majority Leader. He pulls this one off and the money might start flowing a little faster in Gronstal’s direction.

The Republicans at first seemed squishy, some still are, but a good number found Jesus, or rather, they found their supporters that have found Jesus really don’t like TouchPlay. This is a bit glib; I am sure there are a number of legislators on both sides that are against gambling as a reflection of their faith, but Republians see their living faith friends at church and political events.

The TouchPlay coalition types know where legislators stand on the issue and with the Senate moving first they’ll have a better chance of pulling down a “strike all” amendment to the Senate bill. A TouchPlay friendly strike all amendment, if introduced and passed, replaces the Senate bill language that bans all TouchPlay machines with something more acceptable to the Ballys & Bills of the world. If a strike all amendment fails in the Senate and the ban-‘em version of the bill sells across the Rotunda, then a hard ban on TouchPlay becomes possible; however, I don’t know if I’d take that bet.

Even with all of the anti-TouchPlay talk, it’s tough to see how they can put it back in some box and send it C.O.D to Vegas. A week ago, I believed the legislature would solve this issue in the usual fashion -- TouchPlay would have a rough ride until it coughed up more money for the state and curbed its flashy style. This year’s different, and there’s no telling what the TouchPlay political payout is going to look like.

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