Governor Tom Vilsack signed the ban on the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay machines into law late Monday. That means the machines are to be removed by May 4th. Vilsack signed the bill behind closed doors and his staff issued a prepared statement, saying the governor looks forward to “closing this chapter in…the legislative session and working with lawmakers” on other issues.
But just as Vilsack signed the bill legislative leaders were meeting with Attorney General Tom Miller, exploring options that could keep the machines operating a few more months. The intention, according to Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, is try find some way to help TouchPlay owners recoup their investments. “There’s a lot of speculation out there about potential losses but personally I also know there’s a lot of profits that have been (reaped) out there,” Lamberti says. “We can’t make an informed decision about whether we want to do anything until we see those actual numbers and that’s what we’re asking the attorney general to do for us.”
The attorney general and his staff will review as much financial data as possible to find out just who owns the machines and how much each will lose. “We want just a better picture, a more accurate picture so that we can consider what recommendations we would make to the legislature and what they might do to deal with this issue in a fair way and ameliorate some of the losses, if that’s possible,” Miller says.
Miller will present his findings to lawmakers at the end of next week. Miller says the legislature had the power and authority to ban the machines. “This is a fundamental kind of decision that the legislature makes all the time,” Miller says.
Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says they’ve asked the Attorney General to give them some raw numbers. “We’ve asked him to…meet with or to communicate with those companies that own these machines across Iowa and find out how much (money) they’re out,” Gronstal says.
Gronstal’s rough estimation is that keeping the machines in place ’til September 1st would yield TouchPlay owners another 25 million dollars. Under the new law Vilsack signed Monday, TouchPlay machines which remain in operation past May 4th would have to deliver 89 percent of their “take” to the state.
Vilsack’s view of that extension — based on his written statement — is that he would “support that measure, as well as (a) measure that would dedicate Touchplay revenues to mitigate any negative impact the removal of these machines may have on small businesses.” Governor Vilsack was to hold a news conference later Tuesday morning, but cancelled that public appearance late Monday. Vilsack just returned from a trade mission to India.