The two Democrats running for governor who held off making statements about the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay machines until the governor’s task force completed its work both say it’s probably too late to get rid of the machines — because of the private investments involved.
The TouchPlay task force report came out yesterday (Wednesday), calling for restrictions, such as constructing half-walls around the machines and allowing only businesses that sell “age-sensitive” products like beer to have the machines.
Secretary of State Chet Culver says legislators should endorse those recommendations, not ban the machines altogether. Culver says his concern is for the small businesses involved in TouchPlay.
“There have been tens of millions of dollars invested in this program,” Culver says. “We have hundreds of small businesses on Main Streets in urban and rural Iowa that are relying on this new program in terms of job growth and job creation, in many cases.”
Culver says the seeds for the program were planted in 2001 when legislators asked the state-run Lottery to make more money, and Lottery Commissioner Ed Stanek came up with the idea that was approved by the legislature a couple of years later. Culver also cites legal opinions which conclude the TouchPlay machines are legal. Culver says now “it’s up to the legislature…to enact the task force recommendations” that would keep minors, intoxicated people and addicted gamblers from playing the machines.
“All of us are for protecting our children and making the modifications necessary,” Culver says. Mike Blouin, who served as Governor Vilsack’s economic development director until this past July, says there’s still a big unknown in this debate. Blouin says the governor’s task force did not find out the financial obligation the state would face if the plugs are pulled on the TouchPlay machines.
Blouin says to “be honest about it,” he wishes the machines never surfaced in Iowa, but Blouin also says he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite on the issue, because he likes to gamble occasionally.
“I’m not much of a slot person, but I enjoy playing cards and I’ve been in a few casinos and I enjoy it, once in a while…but it’s a place different from standing at a grocery store,” Blouin says. Blouin says “until we find out how much the state is obligated to repay, if anything,” to the businesses that own the machines, or the businesses that offer the machines to the public, then “it’s pretty hard to pull the plug.”
The Iowa House and Senate will debate the issue next week and Blouin says unfortunately, they’ll be acting with “incomplete information.”
Representative Ed Fallon of Des Moines, another Democrat in the race for governor, says he will vote next Tuesday to ban the TouchPlay machines in Iowa. Fallon, an opponent of gambling, says it puts him in the strange position of being on the same side as the state’s casinos in this fight, as the casinos argue the machines are unfair competition because they’re not regulated like the slot machines in their facilities.
The three candidates made their comments Thursday morning during a forum at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s meeting in Des Moines. Congressman Jim Nussle, the Republican candidate for governor, has been saying for weeks that the TouchPlay machines should be pulled from the state.