Let's leave the games of chance to those playing with their own money
A Wyoming Lottery Corporation Would be Shrouded in Darkness
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If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness - Victor Hugo
With spending out of control, governments are looking for revenue from pretty much anywhere. A lottery is the latest great hope for a jackpot in Wyoming. But like many hopefuls, it is unlikely to fulfill its supporters’ overblown promises and could end up costing Wyoming taxpayers. Worse still, the government corporation the current lottery bill would create would be exempt from the Public Records law. This means it will be next to impossible to find out what it is up to.
During testimony before the Senate Travel committee on the pros and cons of the latest lottery bill, lotto promoters talked about eye-popping revenues. What they left out was the fact that governments won’t be spending the revenue from the lottery, but rather what is left over once prizes are paid out and lottery corporation costs are covered.
Tom Jones, from Scientific Games, a company that runs lotteries, said the revenue generated by a Wyoming lottery would be between $80-90 million. However, Mike Moser from the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said revenue would be $21 million.
Although this massive revenue discrepancy raised a few eyebrows, left unsaid was that most of the revenue goes to prizes.
In North Dakota, a state with a similarly sized population and a lottery system comparable to what is envisioned by Wyoming’s current lotto proposal, total revenue in 2011 amounted to $23 million, close to Mr. Moser’s estimate. However expenses totaled $17 million, with 70 percent going to prize expenses, 6 percent to retailer commissions, and 24 percent to operating expenses. That left N. Dakota’s government with $6 million to spend.
A Wyoming lotto corporation is designed to be self-funding and never take money out of the state general fund. But we’ve heard that one before. The Game and Fish Department was supposed to fund itself from the revenue it generated from license fees, but has come to the legislature for general funds over the past few years with its hat in hand, and that hat gets bigger every year. It asks for a handout from the general fund, even though, right on its website, it still says “there is no general fund appropriated from the State for the Game and Fish [sic].”
Worse still, a Wyoming lotto corporation would have the ability incur debt. During his testimony, Mr. Moser said that if the lottery “loses its shirt” it goes out of business. However, if it has debt, what happens to that? A bailout, perhaps?
But anyway, when does a government organization ever disappear no matter how badly it performs? For example, the Office of the Consumer Advocate, which is supposed to protect consumers, was to sunset (government-speak for be shut down) on July 1, 2013. It managed to extend its mandate to 2023 even though Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power, which it is supposed to be protecting consumers from, overcharged thousands of residents about a million dollars over an eight year period - about the same amount of time the consumer advocate has been around. Government organizations are like a fungus; they never go away, they just grow and grow.
Although overblown promises may entice the mark, a bigger problem with a Wyoming lotto corporation came out during testimony. Its activities will be exempt from public scrutiny.
Wyoming’s Public Records Act defines what government information the public may access. Seems a Wyoming Lottery Corporation is subject to the Public Records Act except when it, and it alone, decides that something is confidential. This includes trade secrets, systems or procedures, or bids or contractual data, among other things. Meetings where these confidential items are discussed will be confidential, and how confidentially was decided will also be confidential.
It’s bad enough that the legislature recently passed a bill keeping information on the search and selection of presidents of the University of Wyoming and community colleges secret. But creating corporations and extending secrecy privileges to them, even on meetings devoted to discussing what is secret, has no place in a government organization.
If the Wyoming government is unable to cut spending and is so desperate that it would do anything for more revenue, it can still get a piece of the gambling action by setting the rules of the game and taxing private gambling businesses.
Let’s leave the games of chance to those playing with their own money.
Maureen Bader, Wyoming Liberty Group