Iowa Lottery officials propose putting barriers around their TouchPlay machines to try to keep kids away — and a 250-dollar fine for underage gamblers who try to play the machines or even go inside that restricted area around the machines.
Lottery vice president Mary Neubauer says they’re also testing a device that would read drivers licenses to prevent minors and problem gamblers from claiming prizes.
“In situations that involve a lot of emotion…perception can become reality,” Neubauer says. “The Iowa Lottery does stand here ready and willing to respond to even the perception of issues related to the TouchPlay project.” Neubauer’s comments came late Friday afternoon at a meeting of the task force the governor assembled to delve into the TouchPlay controversy.
The Lottery also volunteers to install new software that would ask players to touch a button to confirm they are at least 21 and are not a problem gambler before they could play the machine. About 900 Iowans have put themselves on a list that bars them from the state’s casinos and from buying Lottery tickets. The Lottery favors putting a card-swipe device at the counter in each retail outlet that has TouchPlay machines and have clerks check it when the player claims a prize rather than putting a card-swipe device on the TouchPlay machine itself that would read drivers licenses before the machine could be turned on.
“In no case do you ever want to substitute for human interaction,” Neubauer says. “Some law enforcement personnel that we discussed this with were afraid that if you put…the drivers license readers on the machine you would perhaps be lulling retail personnel into paying less attention to the machines than they currently do.” Three attorneys testified as well.
One of the lawyers, Mark McCormick who works for the state’s casino industry, argued there is “no question” that under Iowa law, the TouchPlay machines are slot machines. “In our view, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it is a duck,” McCormick told the task force. “And so it is with this duck.” But two other attorneys offered the opposite view. One works for Bally’s, the manufacturer of TouchPlay machines.
The other is Julie Pottorff deputy state attorney general, who said the TouchPlay machines are legal under Iowa law because the software inside the machines ensures there are predetermined winners as opposed to slot machines which have random winners. “As we’re discussing legal issues, I caution you not to be distracted by the feathers,” Pottorff told the panel. “Appearance is not relevant to the legal charge to determine whether these are slot machines or legal lottery products.”
Mike Mahaffey, chairman of the governor’s task force studying the TouchPlay controversy, predicted during Friday’s meeting that this issue is going to court.
“Regardless of what the task force or even what the legislature does, it may be some people in black robes may have to decide this issue,” Mahaffey says. “There’s some interesting legal questions here.”
Mahaffey and the rest of the task force will meet in one more public meeting next Wednesday starting at nine o’clock in the Wallace State Office Building. Governor Vilsack has given the group a March 9th deadline to submit their recommendations.