Iowans who either own or gamble on the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay machines dominated Monday night’s public hearing at the statehouse.
Steve Gendreau of Sabula owns a music and game store where he’s installed the TouchPlay machines and Gendreau says blames the state’s casino industry for raising the ruckus about TouchPlay.
“In the world of John Q. Public, there simply is no controversy,” Gendreau says. “This thing has been driven, it’s been dragged, it’s been pushed in front of us by a very small but vocal minority.”
Greg Tornberg of Urbandale says TouchPlay provides valuable income to the Iowa businesses which offer the machines.
“It’s time to call a spade a spade,” Tornberg says. “Casinos perceive TouchPlay as competition and are spending big out-of-state dollars to try to limit that competition in Iowa. It will be a sad day if these out-of-state interests succeed in legislating their locally, Iowa-owned competition out of business.”
Randy Thompson, president of the Iowa Bowling Proprietors Association, says the revenue from TouchPlay machines is helping some bowling alleys stay open.
“I represent…200 bowling centers throughout the state. Eighty percent, I might add, are located in small communities of Iowa (with) 12 lanes or less,”Thompson says. “I’ve been told by many of my members and constituents that with the offering of TouchPlay to their customers they are beginning to see the offer of real hope for the future.”
Norm Rodgers of Winterset says the TouchPlay machines in Winterset keep his gambling dollars close to home and he doesn’t have to waste gas money driving to the casinos in Altoona or Osceola.
“Now I can stay in Winterset and when I go to the local liquor store I can get my beer and spend a few bucks on the lottery machines,” Rodgers says.
N. Sam Annis III of Waterloo had TouchPlay machines installed 11 months ago in the four convenience stores he owns in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.
“In the 11 months that we’ve had these machines, we’ve had tens of thousands of people come into our stores and no one has ever mentioned anything to me. No one’s ever given me a negative comment about ’em,” Annis says. “I’ve only had positive comments…about the machines.”
Stanhope Mayor Harold Horn is co-owner of a convenience store in Fort Dodge and he says small businesses like his are profiting from TouchPlay.
“Gas prices are going up, cutting our margins. I make more selling one Snicker’s bar than I do selling ten gallons of gasoline,” Horn says. “The issue is not a moral issue…The issue (is) of big business versus small business.”
The first critic of the machines spoke nearly an hour after the hearing began. Steve Hansen of Pleasant Hill says Iowa is quickly becoming the “gambling entertainment center” of the country.
“What kind of culture are we developing for our children in this state where gambling is something that’s perfectly normal behavior that they find in every business on every corner? It teaches our kids to get something for nothing. It doesn’t teach them hard work that Iowa has been known for,” Hansen says. “I sure wouldn’t want to move my family here if that’s the kind of culture that’s being developed in the state of Iowa.”
Charles A. Nelson of Des Moines says he’s a gambling addict who wants the machines banned.
“There’s been a steathy invasion of TouchPlay demons similar in form and function to one-armed bandits,” Nelson says. “Has the Iowa Lottery no shame? At long last, has it no sense of decency? Enough is enough.”
Mitch Henry of Des Moines says he’s also a compulsive gambler.
“Why is it important that we see these mini-casinos at almost every major street corner?” Henry asks. “What message does this send our children?”
The hearing lasted more than two hours. Neither the House nor the Senate has passed legislation yet to address the TouchPlay controversy. A task force appointed by the governor is to make its recommendations by March 9th.