A key lawmaker predicts the number of Iowa Lottery TouchPlay machines allowed in the state will be limited. But Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington who is co-chair of the Legislature’s Oversight Committee, doubts the Iowa Legislature will go as far as banning the machines altogether. Courtney says he’d be “terribly surprised” if lawmakers don’t enact a moratorium and cap the number of TouchPlay machines allowed in the state at 10-thousand. There are about five-thousand TouchPlay machines in Iowa now, and businesses have contracts for another five-thousand.
In addition to that cap, Courtney says the only other compromise he sees as a possibility is requiring some sort of device that reads drivers licenses so minors and addicted gamblers could not use the machines. “If I could push a button right now and stop all gambling in Iowa, I’d push the button,” Courtney says. “Iowans have decided we want gambling and we have gambling in Iowa and I don’t know that the legislature’s of a mind to stop that. There’s an awful lot of people in an awful lot of small little communities around this state that…are making $500 to $1,000 a month (from the TouchPlay machines) and it’s paying the rent or it’s paying the heat bills. This is 2,600 small businesses in my view that we’d be hurting if we do away with these machines.”
Critics say the machines are too easily available to gambling addicts who do not go to the casinos, but find TouchPlay in their local grocery store or gas station. Courtney says gambling addicts who bar themselves from the casinos could easily bar themselves from using TouchPlay if the machines are equipped with a device that reads driver’s licenses. “I want to give the other side of this…We have people who are alcoholics (who) buy groceries in stores where they sell beer. We have people who probably have terrible cancers (who) go into stores that sell cigarettes,” Courtney says. “I don’t want to restrict (the TouchPlay machines) so badly that people can’t use them, either.
Courtney says since 2001, the Oversight Committee knew the Iowa Lottery was embarking on the TouchPlay project and had no objections when Lottery president Ed Stanek showed the committee the slot-like machines that would be dispensing the Lottery’s tickets. Courtney suggests Stanek is a “victim of his own success.” “This is a director of a department (who) took an idea and ran with it,” Courtney says.
Lottery officials predict the TouchPlay machines will yield at least 30 million dollars for the state this year, and over 45 million next year. “Most department heads (who) did that, we’d be applauding,” Courtney says. Courtney says there’s no question the Lottery had the authority to place TouchPlay machines around the state.
But Representative Jeff Elgin, a Republican from Cedar Rapids who is chairman of a House subcommittee holding hearing on the TouchPlay controversy, says there’s still a question as to whether the Lottery had the authority to do what it’s done. “Is this what we’ve perceived in the past as Lottery play or are we moving into a direction that says this is more of a casino-type of operation?” Elgin asks. Elgin says millions of dollars have been invested in the machines, and the state might have to pay millions if TouchPlay is banned. Elgin and Courtney made their comments on the Iowa Public Television program “Iowa Press.”