Taft wants lottery to take different spin
Powerball offered as way to add funds

BY SANDY THEIS
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS — Worried about flat lottery sales, Gov.-elect Bob Taft wants the Ohio Lottery Commission to consider everything from joining Powerball to more aggressive marketing as a means of boosting revenues.

“Sales are volatile now, and they could be in a decline tomorrow if we don't address the issue,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirerin an interview Monday. “That means keeping up with the market in terms of lotteries around the country.”

When asked whether he would consider having Ohio join a multistate lottery such as Powerball, Mr. Taft replied, “I think it's an issue that the lottery director at least ought to examine and give us their thoughts on.”

He described himself as “not a big advocate of gambling,” but added, “I believe that if we're going to have a lottery, it needs to be viable and it needs to provide a reliable source of revenue for the schools.”

Mr. Taft is selecting a lottery director, as well as directors for most other Cabinet-level agencies.

The main reason he cited for expanding the lottery is the primary argument supporters used to sell it to voters 24 years ago: Higher lottery sales mean more money for schools.

Under the Ohio Constitution, lottery profits must go to schools.

The lottery provided $748.5 million for schools in fiscal year 1997 and $723.8 million in fiscal year 1998.

Gale Fisk, deputy director of finance for the lottery, said 1997 marked the first year that Ohio began to see the impact of increased competition, such as the riverboat casinos in Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun, Ind.

Indiana Gaming Commission figures for November showed Argosy Casino Lawrenceburg remains the top riverboat casino in the nation for the seventh month in a row.

Argosy had 598,661 visits in November, making it the most patronized riverboat casino in the nation. Patrons wagered $290.8 million at the slot machines, of which $272.7 million was paid to players. Grand Victoria Casino and Resort in Rising Sun had 294,506 visits in November. It won about $10.1 million of its customers' money.

“Kentucky has Powerball. Indiana has Powerball and casinos. Michigan has a multistate game,” Mr. Fisk said. “So we're surrounded with states that have other forms of gaming, and gaming that is more interactive than what we have.”

He cited Indiana's casinos as the main reason Cincinnati-area lottery sales dropped 7.5 percent last year, the sharpest drop among the nine regions in the state.

In addition to the casinos, a record-breaking Powerball jackpot this past summer lured people from the Ohio Lottery, he said.

A group of Ohio factory workers won the $295.7 million jackpot. Lottery officials estimate that the Powerball jackpot cost Ohio about $14 million in sales.

Powerball now is played in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The game has longer odds than traditional lotteries. As a result, it also has bigger jackpots.

This Wednesday, the jackpot for Ohio's Super Lotto game is expected to be $45 million — the second-highest in Ohio history.

If Ohio takes a serious look at a multistate lottery, it might have to change the Ohio Constitution.

In 1998, then-Ohio Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze issued a legal opinion that said Ohio could not constitutionally join a multistate lottery. His rationale: Because all lottery profits must go to Ohio schools, a multistate game would send some Ohio money to some other participat ing states.

Mr. Taft also likely would encounter criticism from gaming opponents who contend that lotteries are played most often by the poor.

Mindful of such criticism, lame-duck Gov. George Voinovich refused to significantly expand the Ohio Lottery. As a result, the agency has not implemented a new online game since 1992, one year after Mr. Voinovich took office.

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