A draft of a bill outlining the structure of the state lottery drew members' attention during the sixth week of the 87th General Assembly's regular session in Little Rock. Up next: a similar draft setting up scholarship programs to be funded by the lottery.
Arkansas voters approved a lottery last fall, and it has been lawmakers' responsibility this session to set up legislation implementing it. Speaker of the House Robbie Wills and a Senate colleague, Sen. Terry Smith of Hot Springs, led an ad hoc group of lawmakers in beginning the work, and the result is a bill of about 100 pages.
Also during the week, the House and Senate convened in a joint session to hear remarks from former President Bill Clinton, who called on members -- and all Arkansans -- to keep faith in their country during tough economic times. "In 200 years every single soul that bet against America lost money," he said, predicting that the economic stimulus bill and other measures eventually will work, probably in 12 to 15 months. Clinton's last visit to the House Chamber was in 2001, just a couple of days before he left the presidency.
The key elements of the lottery structure so far:
* A nine-member commission appointed by the governor, Speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore. The commission will hire a director and staff, with all salaries to be set by the General Assembly.
* The commission will decide what type of lottery games, including multi-state games such as Powerball, will be conducted, the number and payout of prizes and how winnings are paid out. However, casino gambling and video lotteries are prohibited.
* Former members and employees of the commission can't become lottery lobbyists, vendors or retailers for two years. Members and employees and their families also are prohibited from receiving gifts from lottery vendors and can't purchase lottery tickets or win a prize.
* The commission would be subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.
* Retailers receive commissions of no less than 5 percent of gross sales.
* Lottery ticket sales to those under 18 are illegal, and any prize-winner who is under a court-ordered lien will see those debts deducted from winnings of more than $500.
* Up to $200,000 in unclaimed prize money would go each year to the state Department of Health for the treatment of people with compulsive gambling problems.
"We need to ensure that we're doing everything we can to have people running this that are going to be above reproach," said Speaker Wills.
Also during the week, the House approved HB 1111, by Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Fort Smith, to eliminate the state excise tax on charitable bingo. The bill goes to the Senate.
Arkansas voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment allowing charities and non-profit groups to operate the games once they register with the state and are licensed. To pay for regulating the games, the state levied a tax of one cent per bingo playing card. That tax raises about $1 million a year, well above the state's costs. Supporters of eliminating the tax say it was cutting into the amount going to charity. Opponents said the tax was one way of ensuring that legitimate charities, not out-of-state private enterprises, operate the games.