Nevada's Stormy History With Lottery Proposals

LAS VEGAS -- The record $640 million Mega Millions jackpot hit on Friday created so much lottery fever it caused many Nevadans to question why this state remains one of only eight that doesn't participate.

It's not for lack of effort.

Numerous attempts have been made in the Nevada Legislature at least as far back as 1975 to amend the state constitution's lottery ban but to no avail. The proposed bills haven't succeeded due to stiff opposition from casinos, smaller gaming operators and taverns and concerned citizens who view lotteries as a threat to children and a form of regressive tax on the poor.

In reverse chronological order, here's a recap of that legislative history over the past decade:

2011 -- Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would have authorized the state to operate a lottery to support public education, died in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. The proposal was made by Nevada's Youth Legislature, a leadership training and development program.

One of its Clark County participants, Daniel Waqar, took on the gaming industry -- something Nevada legislators rarely do -- when he told lawmakers in March 2011 why he supported a lottery for education. He addressed MGM Resorts International's opposition to the lottery proposal.

"If, as MGM Resorts contends, our children's education should not be based on the number of individuals who choose to play the lottery, should our children's education be based on the number of individuals who choose to gamble in Nevada's casinos?" Waqar said. "This flawed logic, equating the stability of a state lottery with the detriment to our children's education, is baseless and it deserves little, if any, merit.

"Each one of you has a chance to ensure that millions of dollars that Nevadans use to stimulate educational budgets of Arizona and California by purchasing lottery tickets stay right here in Nevada to benefit our education and students."

But Lynn Chapman, representing the organization Nevada Families, opposed the lottery bill. She argued that the impact of state lotteries on education funding is negligible, and that it could also cause more problems with teen gambling.

"Our children are gambling at an increased rate and becoming addicted," Chapman said. "McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, does a lot of research for high-risk adolescents and reports most adult problem gamblers start as children; their parents purchase lottery tickets or take them to play bingo."

2009 -- Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which would have permitted charities and nonprofit organizations to conduct lotteries, passed the Assembly 31 to 11 but died in the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

Co-sponsoring Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, testified before fellow lawmakers in March 2009 that Nevada voters should be allowed to vote on a lottery, something that would have occurred this fall had the Legislature approved the resolution in 2009 and 2011. Aizley estimated that a state lottery would generate $74 million in revenue.

But Michael Alonso, representing Terrible Herbst, which operated 90 gas stations and convenience stores in Nevada at the time, opposed the measure. He said a lottery would threaten the company's "convenience gaming" business, which consists of slot machines.

"This state is fairly unique compared with other states that have casino gambling," Alonso said. "They do not have convenience gaming. It is not present in the grocery stores, the convenience stores, drug stores, or other restricted locations We oppose AJR 7 for many reasons, one of which is that we think it would directly compete with our business. We do not think the state should be directly competing with its largest industry."

Station Casinos representative Lesley Pittman likewise voiced opposition by stating that the negative consequences of a lottery would outweigh the benefits.

"To begin, we believe that a lottery would put the state of Nevada in the gambling business, pitting the state against its largest private employer, largest property taxpayer and largest purchaser of goods and services," Pittman said.

"Within this economic environment, now is not the time for the state Legislature to make a conscious choice to make it more difficult for our gaming industry to regain its financial health."

Another lottery foe, Tom Clark of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, said: "Every dollar that is spent on a lottery ticket is a dollar that is not going to be spent in our establishments, whether it is in a gaming machine, whether it is for a cheeseburger, or whether it is for a cool, adult beverage."

But Pilar Weiss, representing Culinary Workers Union Local 226, favored the lottery resolution.

"We have been very supportive, especially in discussions regarding using money raised by a lottery for education, which we think definitely warrants increased funding," Weiss said. "We could learn from other states that have made mistakes. We could come up with solutions and be able to establish lotteries that would be quite beneficial to the state."

Another lottery supporter, Vicenta Montoya of the Si Se Puede Latino Democratic Caucus in Las Vegas, said: "I do not see how anyone who is a gambler is going to stop gambling just because we have a lottery … This is just one more venue someone can use."

2007 -- A state lottery to fund education, as provided in Assembly Joint Resolution 5, passed the Assembly 29 to 13 but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Concurrent Resolution 15, which would have directed the Legislative Commission to conduct an interim state lottery study if the Legislature enacted a constitutional amendment authorizing a lottery, died in the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

Applied Analysis, the Las Vegas economic analysis firm, reported that year that a Nevada lottery would generate an estimated $51 million annually in revenue but could supplant other spending on gaming. "While Nevada residents have high propensities to participate in gaming activities, they also have limited budgets," the report stated. "Thus, an increase in spending in one area will likely result in a decrease in spending elsewhere."

The reported also stated: "There is some evidence that lotteries with higher jackpots are substantially less regressive than traditional games. However, lower income households tend to spend more of their disposable incomes on the purchase of lottery tickets than do higher income households. Stated otherwise, those with the least to lose tend to lose the most."

But state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, a Las Vegas Democrat then in the Assembly, told his colleagues it was a myth that the poor and disadvantaged are more likely to buy lottery tickets. He said the most likely players are middle-income earners.

In arguing that 73 percent of Nevadans support a lottery, he also said that California's highest grossing lottery outlet was right across the border at the Primm Valley Store, which grossed $7.8 million as of 2007. That was the very store that had five-hour waiting lines for last week's Mega Millions lottery.

"The lottery is so popular among Nevadans, they are driving to California to buy their tickets," Kihuen said. "Nevadans should not be funding California's education ... I believe that if 73 percent of the people of Nevada support a state lottery, then it is our duty to let Nevadans decide if they want a lottery."

Fellow lottery supporter Terry Hickman, then executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, told lawmakers a lottery "will supplement, not supplant, existing revenues" spent on education.

He rattled off a long list of items lottery money could buy, including instructional materials and supplies, textbooks, computers, software and other multimedia material.

But Bill Bible, then president of the Nevada Resort Association, testified in opposition to AJR 5.

"We are concerned about funding this measure that will create a competitive situation where the state becomes the competitor to the state's principal industry -- gaming," Bible said. "There will be a drop-off in gambling and other revenues if you implement a lottery in Nevada."

2005 -- A state lottery to fund education, as contained in Assembly Joint Resolution 2, passed the Assembly 33 to 9 but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

2003 -- Assembly Joint Resolution 1, which would have allowed a state lottery, and Assembly Joint Resolution 2, which would have allowed the state to participate in certain nonprofit government lotteries, both died in the Assembly Constitutional Amendments Committee.

2001 -- Assembly Joint Resolution 11, which would have approved a lottery to support education and the health and welfare of senior citizens, passed the Assembly 38 to 4 but died in the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

More Stories

Don't Miss

  • Community Calendar
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Connect with 8 News NOW
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Community Pride
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Politics Now
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • I-Team Reports
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest News

Video Center