The Legislature is moving swiftly to stop the Minnesota State Lottery’s foray into new platforms for buying its tickets, such as at ATMs, gas station pumps and online.
Minnesotans now can go to the state lottery website, for instance, and be directed to an online vendor that will sell them Powerball and Mega Millions tickets and other games of chance. Those sales could stop if the quickly moving bills become law.
The rebuke of the State Lottery is viewed by many as a proxy fight with Gov. Mark Dayton over the Legislature’s oversight authority of the executive branch. Legislators have complained, sometimes in strong language, that the Minnesota State Lottery moved into these new payment platforms without proper approval.
“If there’s ever been an example where the Legislature ought to assert itself and exert legislative oversight, it’s right here,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.
The bills approved by a House committee last week and in a Senate committee Monday are similar to legislation passed last year by wide bipartisan majorities but vetoed by Dayton as the session ended, giving the Legislature no chance to override.
Dayton defended the State Lottery’s move into new buying platforms Monday: “If we’re going to have a lottery, why wouldn’t we want it to be as successful as possible so it would generate as much money as possible for the environmental trust fund, as well as for general operating purposes?”
Since its inception, the lottery has dumped $2.4 billion into state coffers, including $950 million for environmental spending.
State Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten, who arrived in Minnesota three years ago from Kansas while much of the lottery expansion was already underway, repeated an assurance that he and his staff never intended to “usurp the authority of the Legislature” and promised more transparency in dealing with lawmakers. He has offered compromise language that so far has been rejected.
Van Petten said the online sales platforms include age and location verification and limit players to $50 of tickets per week. Among calls to the Minnesota problem gambling help line last year, 11 percent identified the lottery as their primary gambling problem, while 47 percent said they struggled with casino slots.
Despite Van Petten’s testimony, committee members in both houses were more sympathetic to a coalition of anti-gambling forces, including the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition and Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. Their representatives encouraged legislators to stop any expansion, testifying that the lottery is damaging enough as is, especially to poor Minnesotans. According to a 2008 paper in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making that examined lotteries nationwide, poor Americans are the most frequent players.
Dayton questioned whether something else is afoot in this battle between the lottery and legislators: rival gambling operators. Lobbyists are watching the legislation closely.
“Given the political power that’s lined up behind this bill relative to what the expressed need for it is, something doesn’t connect,” he said.
Dayton did not say whether he would veto the legislation.