Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: Opening Lottery Hoopla Shrouds Concerns

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: Opening Lottery Hoopla Shrouds Concerns

Article excerpt

Gov. Brad Henry's lottery plan with its promised horn-of-plenty got under way last Wednesday amid media fanfare, controversy, criticism and confusion, with $2.2 million sales of scratch-off tickets at some 1,200 outlets across the state for the day.

Time will tell if it produces his pledged cornucopia of funds for education, or is just another callously political con job.

One thing appears certain. It will not achieve the $300 million a year in state revenue the governor continually assured voters it would reap. Less than half that amount, $124 million, is being estimated now by the Oklahoma Education Lottery Commission.

Online ticket purchases start next month. In January the state is scheduled to join the big-prize national Powerball lottery. This added boost is expected to be significant, but a number of knowledgeable observers believe the commission's estimate is too optimistic.

Henry's huge tobacco tax increase plan and his expansion of casino gambling are failing to reach predicted revenue levels and may cause funding shortfalls for important programs next year.

Early ticket sales may be misleading. They could be low because of the lack of sales outlets, or high because of initial enthusiasm and curiosity, but not sustainable.

A number of big chain retailers are declining to participate, citing problems they perceive arising from ticket sales. Others have signed on. Depending on sales growth on other items spurred by the ticket sales, there could be some rethinking both ways.

It is true voters approved the lottery, but the plan is the governor's baby. Henry developed it early for his 2002 gubernatorial election campaign. He touted it at every opportunity with inflated income estimates while downplaying possible problems.

It had top priority in his first state-of-the-state address to the 2003 Legislature as he persisted in claiming it would bring in $300 million annually.

Desperate to get the needed 3,500 retail lottery ticket outlets to reach its sales goal and only about a third of that number on board, the Oklahoma Education Lottery Commission stirred up renewed criticism two weeks ago by adopting rules that allowed pawnshops, payday loan and check-casher locations to sell lottery tickets. …

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