Oklahoma House rejects lottery bill

Wednesday, March 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A plan to let voters consider establishing a state lottery to help fund education was rejected in a narrow vote along party lines in the Oklahoma House Wednesday.

The House voted 52-49 to reject the proposal, which was a centerpiece of Gov. Brad Henry's plans to help make up a budget shortfall that has forced cutbacks in public schools.

Henry said such a lottery could provide $300 million a year to schools.

Forty-five Republican lawmakers voted against the measure.

``Gambling is just plain wrong,'' said Rep. Frank Davis, R-Guthrie. ``It's getting something for nothing. We simply cannot sin ourselves into prosperity.''

Six of the 52 Democrats in House voted against the lottery bill and only three Republicans supported the measure.

The measure's author Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, said lawmakers were not being asked to pass judgment on the lottery, but merely send it to a vote of the people.

``You're saying I know more. Shame on you,'' Kirby chided opponents. ``You allow the people to vote on it. Shame on you if you think you know more than your voters.''

Kirby has already asked the House to reconsider the bill within the next three legislative days.

Church groups have publicly opposed a statewide referendum on the lottery.

Ray Sanders of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma said his group opposed the expansion of gambling in the state. Sanders said any lottery vote should be scheduled through an initiative petition.

Plans to vote on the measure Feb. 20 in the House were postponed after backers discovered they did not have enough votes to pass it.

Supporters had been trying to line up votes ever since.

Recent editorials in the state's leading newspapers, including The Daily Oklahoman and The Tulsa World, expressed support for a statewide vote, House Speaker Larry Adair said.

Public support for the bill had also been expressed. Some Oklahomans said they were disappointed with the decision.

``What they did today was take away the future of our children because schools are not going to get the money they need,'' said Jennifer Roberts of Oklahoma City.

``I'm so angry I could move to another state where I can start a life and have a future for my children.

Lottery supporters say they will pursue an initiative petition to put the lottery proposal on the fall 2004 ballot.

Mike Carrier with Citizens for a Better Oklahoma, said his group plans to file an initiative petition to put the proposal before voters.

``It will be a matter of days, not weeks,'' Carrier said.

Carrier said the petition will be very similar to bill proposed by Henry and defeated in the House.

``There are a lot of worthwhile things that are in the governor's bill that we can put in our bill,'' Carrier said.