Assemblyman pushes for lottery at Nevada Legislature

20 March 2015

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- It is said that a person has a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery.

But the dismal odds of winning the lottery are nothing compared to Assembly­man Harvey Munford’s quest to get a proposal through the Legislature to allow a lottery to operate in Nevada.

He made his pitch Thursday before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

Every effort to amend Nevada’s constitution to allow a lottery floated in the Legislature over the past 30 years has failed, primarily because the gaming industry doesn’t want the competition. There is also some opposition from religious groups because of the negative effect on people with low incomes.

Nearly 30 attempts to establish a lottery in Nevada since 1975 have failed. A measure passed the Assembly in 2009 but did not pass the state Senate. A measure in 2011 did not get a hearing. No measure was introduced in 2013.

Forty-four states now operate lotteries, while Nevada — which legalized casino gaming in 1931 — does not. The prohibition was placed in Nevada’s constitution at statehood in 1864. It was amended by voters in 1990 to allow lotteries operated by charitable organizations.

So Nevadans continue to drive to California or Arizona when a big jackpot is in the offing, leaving the state out of the revenue stream that Munford, D-Las Vegas, said could bring millions of dollars to the state’s schoolchildren and senior citizens.

“This is a loss of revenue for our state that could be helping the education of our younger constituents,” he said. “It would do so without increasing taxes.”

Voters should be given the chance to decide the issue, Munford said.

Munford, who is serving his last session in the Assembly because of term limits, said Thursday there appears to be more interest in such a proposal this session, particularly from Republicans.

The Elections Committee took no immediate action on the resolution.

The resolution was supported by Father David Hoff of Henderson, who said a lottery would provide funds for education without raising taxes.

“The gaming industry can sell tickets from its casinos,” he said. “This would also create jobs.”

But Janine Hansen, state president of Nevada Families, spoke in opposition, saying low-income and young people would be put at greater risk of developing a gambling addiction with access to a lottery. Lottery tickets are easier to obtain than access to other gambling opportunities at a casino where the minimum age is 21, she said.

There was no testimony from the gaming industry Thursday.

But it will be a long road to the day when a Nevada resident can buy a lottery ticket in the Silver State. Munford’s Assembly Joint Resolution 6 would have to pass this session of the Legislature and again in the 2017 session, then go to voters in 2018. The resolution would leave the crafting of a lottery to law­makers in 2019.

If it gets to the voters, Munford said there is no question it would pass easily.

Surveys of voters in 2009 showed about 70 percent were in favor of a state lottery. A poll taken by the Review-Journal in 2003 found that 73 percent of residents favored a state lottery.

“This is really about giving the voters the choice,” said Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, who supports the bill.

In 2007, Boyd Gaming Corporation and Station Casinos, Inc. unveiled a study that found a Nevada lottery would create 316 new jobs in Nevada while eliminating 595 jobs in the gaming and hospitality industry. A state lottery, according to the analysis, would bring $48 million a year in profit for the state.

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