Gov. Dayton defends state lottery's online games
Gov. Mark Dayton Friday came to the defense of the Minnesota Lottery's right to offer online games, and warned he'll veto any bill that would bar the agency from offering the Internet based options.
He asserted that lobbyists from competing gambling interests are pressuring lawmakers to blow the issue out of proportion.
"It's just totally a non-concern to anybody outside of Capitol," Gov. Dayton told reporters in St. Paul.
"And there are 201 legislators who are influenced by a bunch of people who are very well paid by a bunch of very, very lucrative economic interests, to protect their piece of the gambling turf in Minnesota."
Dayton made his remarks at a Minnesota Lottery press event hosted by the Science Museum of Minnesota, one of several organizations that has been able to put lottery proceeds to use in environmental research.
"Through these partnerships we provided the state with vital information that led to the banning of Triclosan," Eric Jolly, the Science Museum's president said.
The lottery has returned $2.4 billion to the state in its 25-year history, including $127 million in 2014, according to director Ed van Petten.
Part of that has gone to the general fund to help pay for schools and health care, while part has been dedicated to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. A board made up of citizens and lawmakers decides how that trust fund money is spent.
Reporters also heard from Susan Galatowitsch, director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the U of M, funded in part with lottery Trust Fund money. Whitney Clark of Friends of the Mississippi River also told of prairie preservation and wetlands restoration work done, using lottery-funded sources to leverage private donations.
"This work that we're doing really isn't about those of us who are standing up here today; it's about the future generations," Clark said.
A Lotto Drama
The lottery began selling tickets online in 2010 on a subscription site. Players' electronic wallets are tied a bank account or debit card, and their spending is capped at $50 per week.
But gambling opponents expressed alarm in 2013 when the lottery added e-scratch games, an electronic version of traditional paper scratch-off games. They warned it would make gambling addiction more likely for a generation already addicted to video gaming and mobile devices.
Some lawmakers took aim at Play-at-the-Pump lottery games at gas stations and convenience stores, and games based in ATMs. At the end of the 2014 session Dayton vetoed a bill that would've ended those new lottery venues.
The revived version of the bill is getting traction at the Capitol, with bipartisan support. In a hearing earlier in the week several legislators asked Van Petten why he hasn't sought legislation that specifically grants permission to the lottery to add electronic games.
The governor said Friday he remains perplexed that legislators want to prevent the lottery from introducing new technology and following customers who are seeking more convenient means of playing.
"Who's interests are being protected here by this action?" Dayton asked. "If the same legislation that I vetoed last year reaches my desk I'll veto it again."
Online sales accounted for a very small percentage of all sales, but the Van Petten says he expects it to be a growing share of revenue in the future and a means of marketing traditional games.
Dayton said he believes most Minnesotans have lost track of how lottery money is used. He noted that the loon in the lottery's logo is a reminder of the environmental funding, but said the $70 million that goes to the General Fund each year gets lost in the shuffle.
The governor said he likes the idea of dedicating that money instead to a trust fund that would help colleges and schools pay for constructions, repairs and upkeep.
Dayton said he hasn't discussed that with lawmakers yet, but he believes such a fund would make it easier for the state's residents to see lottery proceeds at work.