Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Texas lottery revenues are declining.
Texas officials fear that revenues dropped more than $100 million in the most recent fiscal year — a $49 million blow to public education — because the current crop of games are tired, unappealing and at the end of their life cycle. Sales are down 2.7 percent, including a $73 million decrease in the normally mega-popular scratch-offs.
“People get bored. How many times can you employ the same games?” said Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, chair of the committee that oversees the Texas Lottery Commission.
There’s a marriage counseling joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
Flores and officials at the commission complain they can’t fix the problem in the state’s 16-year-old lottery.
Texas law restricts the lottery commission from introducing new forms of gambling, such as keno, video lottery terminals and instant online games. Those games give instant results, which are appealing for players.
Unlike the scratch-off games, which take forever to let you know if you’ve won or not.
“We can’t expand, we can’t do anything,” Flores complained, directing his ire at gambling opponents who he insists have blocked a good number of his gambling initiatives in the Legislature.
Texas lottery officials estimate that video lottery terminals at racetracks could bring in an additional $1.4 billion in state revenue over a five-year period, with keno, a bingolike gambling game, bringing in as much as $173 million in additional revenue over a five-year period.
But gambling opponents aren’t swayed by the numbers. They say the state has no business expanding games that tend to appeal to those least able to afford them.
Jokes aside, this is the key bit to the story. Whatever your opinion of expanded gambling in Texas is, it’s not just going to be on the table in 2009, I expect it to be one of the hotter issues. There’s a ton of lobby money behind it – take a look at Rep. Flores’ campaign finance statements, for instance – and there are proponents and opponents on both sides of the partisan aisle. If there’s even a hint of a revenue dropoff in the next Comptroller’s report, look for this to climb even higher on the issues ladder. And if a bill passes and Gov. Perry vetoes it, or if no action gets taken, don’t be surprised to see this an an issue in the 2010 elections. Might be time to get Mayor White and Senator Hutchison on the record about this.
On the bright side:
The drop in lottery revenue doesn’t have education officials overly anxious.
“The public has the perception that the schools are highly dependent on lottery funds, but they’re not,” said Texas Education Agency Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. “Typically the lottery provides us with a billion a year. When they slip below that, other state monies make up the difference.”
Good to know, though I wouldn’t get too comfortable while Tom Craddick is Speaker. Frankly, if we do wind up with expanded gambling, I’d just as soon it be targeted for general revenue, since I would never expect it to be a consistent source from year to year. Regardless, do keep this in mind for the next time you hear someone mention gambling as being a primary source of education funding in Texas.