Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Will a Democratic Iowa Senate restart the TouchPlay program?

The Iowa lottery fires a final shot over the TouchPlay debate. From a Radio Iowa report:

Iowa Lottery sales more than doubled in the last 12 months according to a report released today (Wednesday), fueled in large part by those now-silent TouchPlay machines.

The Iowa Lottery recorded a 60 percent increase in sales of its products over the 12-month state fiscal year that began July 1st, 2005 and ended on June 30th of this year. TouchPlay machines were shut down on May 4th. But during their last 11 months of operation, those TouchPlay machines yielded $121.4 million in revenue for the state-run Lottery. ...

... A Lottery news release indicates the state's "take" from Lottery sales is nearly $81 million, an increase of about 58 percent over the previous year.
If TouchPlay was a political issue hinging strictly on the revenue, then TouchPlay would be all over Iowa found in libraries, community buildings, child development centers -- everywhere. But the issue was a little bigger than the revenue; the TouchPlay program crossed paths with our money fueled gambling interests, and the gambling interests wanted it gone.

Lobbyists for the gaming industry ran a great campaign; they inspired their friends in the legislature, worked the media and engaged the outraged moral majority to push for a complete ban on the program.

The public tide against TouchPlay made it difficult for legislators to side with the lottery, even though a number of Democrats and Republicans would have liked to see the program continue. It happened that the right combination of legislators and public opinion worked together to put an end to a major revenue producing lottery program. However, we're in an election year and if a different mix of people lead the legislature after November, TouchPlay may make a comeback -- particularly after seeing fy06 revenue numbers.

We need to ask the question: If Mike Gronstal and the Democrats had the outright majority in the Iowa Senate, then would the zoned out, chain smoking mammas still be playing the machines?

Mike Gronstal gives a few clues in his March 10, 2006 appearance on Iowa Press.

Glover: WELL, I'M CURIOUS, WHAT ARE YOU HEARING BACK HOME AND WHERE ARE YOU ON THIS ISSUE?

Gronstal: I'M HEARING BOTH FROM EMPLOYEES AT CASINOS AND FROM PEOPLE THAT OPERATE OTHER ESTABLISHMENTS, BARS AND GAS STATIONS THAT SEE THESE MACHINES. IN TERMS OF MY CONSTITUENCY, IT'S VERY MUCH CONFLICTED ON THIS ISSUE.

Borg: THERE'S AN OLD ADAGE: FOLLOW THE MONEY. AS YOU GET INTO SPECIAL INTERESTS THAT ARE INFLUENCING THIS DEBATE, WHERE IS THE MONEY COMING FROM, IN YOUR JUDGMENT, THAT'S GOING INTO TOUCH PLAY? IS IT COMING OUT OF THAT WHAT WOULD NORMALLY GO TO CASINOS? IS IT COMING OUT OF THE GROCERY AND MOVIE MONEY? WHERE'S IT COMING FROM?

Gronstal: YOU KNOW, WE HAVE -- WE HAVE GATHERED A LOT OF INFORMATION. WE'VE BEEN GIVEN A LOT OF DATA ON THIS SUBJECT. AND THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS EXPERTS DISAGREE. SOME EXPERTS SUGGEST THAT TOUCH PLAY MACHINES ARE LIKE A GATEWAY OPPORTUNITY FOR SOME PEOPLE TO START PLAYING TOUCH PLAY MACHINES AND THEN THEY MAY MIGRATE TO CASINOS.

Borg: WHO'S GETTING HURT? THAT'S REALLY WHAT I'M ASKING.

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK WE'VE YET SEEN NUMBERS THAT SHOW THAT THE CASINOS ARE GETTING HURT IN A SIGNIFICANT WAY AT THIS POINT IN TIME. I THINK THERE'S PROBABLY A LITTLE MORE HURT FOR THE SMALLER CASINOS IN THE SMALLER COMMUNITIES THAT ARE SMALLER OPERATIONS. BUT I DON'T KNOW THAT THERE'S A DRAMATIC IMPACT IN COUNCIL BLUFFS. I DON'T KNOW THAT THERE'S A DRAMATIC IMPACT IN DES MOINES IN TERMS OF PRAIRIE MEADOWS. I DON'T THINK WE HAVE REALLY SEEN DRAMATIC IMPACTS THERE, BUT MAYBE MORE SO IN COMMUNITIES LIKE OSCEOLA.

It's hard to say how Mike Gronstal would lead on a revenue issue like TouchPlay, but it certainly seems he is less concerned about the hurting Iowa gambling revenue and not at all worried about public outrage over TouchPlay.

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