The Iowa Legislature’s showdown over the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay machines starts today (Monday) in the Senate and continues tomorrow in the House. Wally Horn, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, has been a state senator since 1973 and he’ll vote to keep TouchPlay.
Horn says there’s the threat of a 200-million dollar lawsuit from TouchPlay retailers if the state bans the machines, and a prediction the state will collect up to 75 million dollars in 2009 from the machines. “And that’s money!” Horn says.
But another Linn County lawmaker — Senator Mary Lundby, a Republican from Marion — will vote to ban the machines. “But if that’s not possible, then those counties that have voted not to have gambling in their counties, casino-style gambling, then I think it’s very important that we try to withdraw those machines from those counties,” Lundby says.
Linn County voters have twice rejected referendums which would have allowed casino-style gambling in the county. “Most of my constituents, not all, but most of my constituents are very interested in those machines being removed from our county,” Lundy says. But Horn says he’s heard from a lot of folks in the Cedar Rapids area who want the machines there.”I went in a place where they have the four (TouchPlay) machines. It was a convenience store. I looked over there and this lady said: ‘Come here, Wally’ and I went over,” Horn says. “She said: ‘Don’t take my fun away from me.'”
Lundby has heard from folks who want to keep TouchPlay going, but Lundby says she believes the majority of her constituents want TouchPlay banned. “I think we have enough gambling within casinos and adding additional gambling at every corner is just not something that I think Iowans want, in general,” Lundby says. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, last Thursday told the 50 other
Republicans in the House that Tuesday’s TouchPlay debate will be “gut check” time.
Rants says the very first vote the 100 House members will be faced with is whether the machines should be banned. Representative Jeff Elgin, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, has been working behind-the-scenes to try to come up with a compromise.
“There is no clear consensus as to whether we ban these or regulate these or just allow them to do their thing,” Elgin says.
A number of legislators, including Elgin, say they’d prefer to be working on other issues. “You wish it wasn’t coming up this year ’cause it obviously takes time and effort from everybody on other issues that you’d like to be working on,” Elgin says. “But this is one that is important to the people of Iowa and we need to address it.” One reason the debate is scheduled this week is because legislators need to decide the fate of the machines soon because they cannot fashion next year’s state budget without knowing how much revenue, if any, the TouchPlay machines will generate.
The Iowa Lottery estimates the machines would reap 45 million dollars for the state in the next budgeting year. Elgin has been meeting privately with Representative Brian Quirk, a Democrat from New Hampton, to try to find some common ground. Quirk says one thing most legislators agree upon is there should be some mechanism that would prevent minors and addicted gamblers from using the TouchPlay machines. But that issue is moot if the House and Senate vote to ban the machines.