Backers of Iowa Lottery “TouchPlay” machines in grocery stores, bars, restaurants, and convenience stores are striking back in the public relations battle over the future of the devices. Mike Triplett, a spokesman for the so-called TouchPlay coalition, is a lobbyist for Bally’s, which makes the machines and he organized a news conference Friday afternoon at the statehouse. “We’re due to have some positive news on this issue and that’s why we’re here today,” Triplett said. “We want to talk about how this issue has been misunderstood,” Triplett said.
Triplett describes a TouchPlay machine as something with “nice bells and whistles” but a device that’s electronically dispensing a Lottery ticket. “You’re not playing against the machine itself like you are if it’s a slot machine,” Triplett said. “This is a Lottery product, served electronically.”
Some legislators say they were hoodwinked by lottery officials and had no idea the machines would be so similar to slot machines. Dawn Carlson, president of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa, says legislators cannot make that claim. “Through four years of development and some 15 presentations to the Legislature, there is not a shadow of a doubt that TouchPlay was thoroughly and accurately described,” Carlson says. She says small, rural businesses are “surviving” and “thriving” because of TouchPlay.
The TouchPlay Coalition, however, did not have any small-town business owners offering the machines to the public speak at their news conference. Instead, Scott Krueger who owns and operates six gas station/convenience stores in the Des Moines area was invited to speak. Krueger says the “pennies and the nickels” being played on TouchPlay machines in his stores translate into about a thousand dollars profit per month in each store. He says the money helps off-set the higher credit card fees his company must pay because of higher gas prices.
Scott Henneman is the G-M of Omaha-based Oasis Gaming which sells the machines in question. “Many of the businesses that have these machines are third (or) second generation family businesses,” Henneman says. “There’s a lot of mom and pop businesses out there that depend upon this income and it’s just not right that it’s a turf battle between the casinos and these small businesses in Iowa.” Carlson — the spokeswoman for the state’s gas station and convenience store industry — says despite the allegations, there’s not a single report of an underage person being caught playing TouchPlay. “We are the gatekeepers of age-sensitive products,” Carlson says. “We sell tobacco. We sell beer products and we sell Lottery products and we take that very responsibly.” She says clerks are trained at surveillance before any TouchPlay machine is placed in a store. The Lottery has limits on the number of machines which can be in any one location. If it’s a bar or a business that restricts access due to age, then the business can have four TouchPlay machines. All other businesses may have only two unless they create a separate area for the machines.
Bill Wohlers is president of a New Hampton business that’s buying and distributing the machines. “Much of the so-called public outcry that we’re now seeing is based on perceived threats and hearsay…I’d like to set the record straight,” Wohlers says. “There have been no violations of underage utilization. The positive economic impacts have been completely ignored. The unfair competitive demands of big casino business have been ignored and the rights of adults to enjoy legal entertainment in their own small town and hometown is being completely denied.” The state of Iowa is expected to reap 30-million dollars in the next year in taxes played on the TouchPlay.