Panel advances bill barring Arkansas lottery from starting monitor games until March 2015



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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A proposal barring the Arkansas lottery from starting monitor-style games such as keno until next spring was advanced by lawmakers Monday, under a compromise that eases a plan to outright ban the expanded gambling.

The House Rules Committee endorsed the modified plan to prohibit the lottery from adding the games, sending the bill to the House for a vote Tuesday afternoon. The Senate was expected to take up an identical proposal on Tuesday.

Sen. Jimmy Hickey, who proposed the outright ban, modified it to a moratorium that would end March 13, 2014, to win the support of House leaders who said they wanted the games discussed in a regular session. The monitor games are one of three issues lawmakers are set to take up during the special session that convened Monday.

"We will have to address it at that point or they would be allowed to continue on with whatever is legal for them to do," Hickey, R-Texarkana, told reporters.

The Arkansas Lottery Commission has approved the start of keno, a bingo-style game that would have draws every six minutes, which players would track on monitors. The commission has been under pressure to increase sales, which have been falling and making less money available for college scholarships.

Senate leaders had been pushing for the ban, saying they didn't believe keno was what voters had in mind when they approved the lottery in 2008. House Speaker Davy Carter, however, said he preferred the issue be considered during a regular session.

Carter said the change allows lawmakers to have a deeper discussion about whether the lottery should include such games, rather than trying to take up the matter too quickly in a special session. Carter said he believed there is widespread opposition to the lottery adding the monitor games.

"To me it seems the wisest thing to do is to just stop it all and let everybody regroup and have a real debate in a real general session," Carter told reporters.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe opposes the addition of keno and plans to sign legislation if it reaches his desk.

The lottery projected it would sell $12.5 million worth of tickets for the monitor games, which would create $3.8 million in revenue for college scholarships. Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said the moratorium would give lottery officials time to explain to lawmakers why they want to add the games.

The amended proposal "at least gives us the opportunity to visit the Legislature regarding it, so that is the preferable option obviously," he said.

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