Governor Tom Vilsack is convening a six-person task force to study the Iowa Lottery’s “touch-play” machines and hinting to Lottery officials that they should refrain from installing more of the machines around the state. There are now about 45-hundred Iowa Lottery “touch-play” machines in grocery stores, bars, restaurants and convenience stores around the state. The state’s casino industry argues the machines are just like slot machines and should be regulated just like the slot machine casinos.
“The task force will be charged with the responsibility of determining whether or not these machines are in fact and legally can be described as slot machines or whether there is a distinction that would allow them to be classified as Lottery property,” Vilsack says. Vilsack says the task force also must determine whether there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent minors, intoxicated people or problem gamblers from using the “touch-play” machines. Vilsack is asking the task force to submit a report to him in 60 days. “And then we will take appropriate steps based on the recommendations,” Vilsack says.
The governor is asking legislators to hold off on taking action on their own until the task force makes its recommendations. “It’s a very complicated and technical question about the character of these machines. Clearly, to the average person, not knowing the details of the mechanics or the computer technology, they would appear to be very similar to slot machines,” Vilsack says. “However, I’m told the technology is quite different and that is what distinguishes them from what you would see in a casino.”
The governor says the “pay-out” is different for the “touch-play” machines compared to slots. “So there are a lot of nuances and a lot of very technical aspects of this which require some thought and not a knee-jerk or emotional response, which is why we’re putting the task force together,” Vilsack says. Sources say Vilsack has asked Lottery officials not to install any more of the “touch play” machines in Iowa until the debate is resolved.
A spokeswoman for the Lottery says she has “no information on that” request, but Vilsack hints that he wants the Lottery to institute a moratorium on placing new “touch-play” machines around the state. “I want to make sure that somebody in this squabble is looking out for the kids of this state. That’s my primary focus,” Vilsack says. “In the meantime, my hope is that we don’t see a proliferation of these machines until we have a pretty clear understanding of what the rules of the game are.”
Vilsack’s task force will consist of someone from the casino industry, someone from the Lottery as well as people who have regulated both the Lottery and the gaming industry which in Iowa includes race tracks and slot machine casinos.