Four of the six members of the governor’s TouchPlay task force recommend that the machines be located only in businesses which sell age-restricted products like beer or cigarettes. That means the beauty salons, car dealerships and other businesses which have TouchPlay machines now but don’t offer those kind of products would have to give up the machines. Task force chairman Mike Mahaffey says “Places like dry cleaners, tanning salons, laudromats,” he says. Mahaffey, an opponent of gambling, says whether you think the TouchPlay machines are a slot machine or not, the Lottery had the authority to place the machines around the state. Mahaffey says the Lottery launched the TouchPlay project because there was an economic downturn and legislators asked the Lottery to find ways to make more money. “If you look at this very honestly, one of the ways to make more money is to have machines, that whether they’re slot machines or not, have some excitement to them,” Mahaffey says. “The state of Iowa is addicted to gambling money. If anybody needs to call 1-800-BETS-OFF, it’s probably the state government.” Meanwhile, Governor Tom Vilsack says if the legislature doesn’t pass a bill responding to the TouchPlay controversy by March 9th, then the moratorium he put in place freezing the number of TouchPlay machines in operation should continue. “I think it’s fairly clear that there ought not to be any further expansion of this…until the legislature has taken action,” Vilsack says. “It’s fairly clear the legislature is going to take action of some kind.” There are 56-hundred TouchPlay machines in 26-hundred Iowa businesses today and as many as five-thousand machines were under contract but not yet placed when Vilsack ordered the moratorium on new machines. “It wouldn’t be prudent or wise for anybody to make further investments because there may be a contraction instead of an expansion,” Vilsack says. On Monday, a state Senate committee will debate a bill that would get rid of all the machines and end the Lottery’s TouchPlay project. Senator Larry McKibben, a Republican from Marshalltown, says letting businesses that sell age-restricted products like beer and cigarettes keep the TouchPlay machines isn’t as fair as an all-out ban on TouchPlay. “If we don’t do it completely, we pick winners and losers in the marketplace,” McKibben says. “I simply think that is wrong.” Senator Mary Lundby, a Republican from Marion, says there are 77 lobbyists registered to pressure lawmakers to keep the TouchPlay machines around, and the longer lawmakers wait, the harder it will be for opponents of the machines to overcome that. “I’m fighting it because my county voted overwhelmingly not to have casino-style gambling,” says Lundby, who lives in Linn County. “TouchPlay machines are casino-style gambling.” But Senator Wally Horn, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who also lives in Linn County, says there are legislators who have the opposing view. Horn says it’d be hard to “draw the line” like the governor’s task force recommends and tell some businesses they may keep the machines, while others have to give them up. “That’s got to be worked out,” Horn says.
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