LITTLE ROCK — A proposal to bar the state lottery, at least temporarily, from introducing monitor games cleared a House committee Wednesday.
The bill advanced on the opening day of a special legislative session called by Gov. Mike Beebe to address school employees’ insurance, prison overcrowding and lottery monitor games.
In the weeks leading up to the session, Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, circulated a draft bill that would have imposed an outright ban on monitor games, but on Monday he filed a modified proposal, Senate Bill 5, that would impose a ban on the games that would expire on March 13, 2015.
"It would allow us to begin looking at it at the beginning of that (year’s) session," Hickey told reporters. "We will have to address it at that point or then they would be allowed to continue on, I guess, under whatever is legal for them to do."
Hickey said he believed a majority of House members and senators supported his original proposal, but he filed the modified version as a compromise to get it through the House Rules Committee, where passage of the original version was uncertain. That committee on Monday endorsed an identical House version of the measure, House Bill 1005 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, in a voice vote with no "no" votes heard.
HB 1005 goes next to the full House. A Senate committee is expected to take up SB 5 on Tuesday.
In monitor games such as keno, drawings are typically held every four minutes and results are displayed on monitors at lottery retailers. Earlier this year the state Lottery Commission announced plans to introduce a monitor game in September in an effort to boost sagging revenue.
Hickey has said he does not believe voters intended to approve monitor games when they approved a state lottery to fund college scholarships in 2008. Critics of his proposal, including Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, co-chairman of a legislative committee that oversees the lottery, say it seeks to prevent competition with online gambling on races at Arkansas horse and dog tracks, which a 2013 law — supported by Hickey — allows.
State Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said after the House Rules Committee adjourned Monday, "We want to play monitor games. The commission has directed me to implement monitor games."
But Woosley said a temporary ban would be preferable to a permanent ban because it "at least gives us the opportunity to visit with the Legislature regarding it."
Collins told reporters he believes the compromise bill appeals to legislators because it would provide an opportunity to look for "a more balanced approach" during the 2015 session.
"I don’t want to be a part of saying ‘No you can’t grow revenue in this way’ if this is the only way to grow revenue and then turn around and say, ‘Revenue’s not growing, you guys aren’t doing a good job," he said.
The oversight committee on the lottery met Monday before the special session convened. Woosley presented a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that included a little more than $12 million in projected ticket sales and about $3.5 million in profits from a proposed monitor game, but the committee postponed reviewing the budget until a future meeting.