Long fight for Oklahoma lottery over, but start process just beginning

Thursday, November 18th 2004, 6:39 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma voters earlier this month ended Gov. Brad Henry's yearslong battle to get a statewide lottery, but the task of making the lottery a reality has just begun.

Before the first ticket is sold, a lottery commission has to take shape, the rules of the games established and other details worked out.

The first step comes with Henry's appointment of a seven-member lottery commission. The governor's office is accepting applications.

``They'll go through a lengthy and detailed process, including an OSBI criminal background check, so it may take a while,'' Henry's spokesman Paul Sund said.

``His goal is to pick people of high integrity he believes have the capacity of implementing a lottery in an organized and efficient fashion.''

Once the commission is in place, members will select an executive director to run the lottery and proceed with negotiations with vendors and pick the hardware and software it takes to run the lottery.

It's estimated that it will take about a year to set up the framework of a lottery and sell the first ticket, Sund said.

``... Governor Henry prefers to do it right instead of fast,'' Sund said.

Tennessee got its lottery up and running 14 months after voters approved a lottery measure in November 2002.

The first tickets were sold in January, said Kym Gerlock, vice president of communications for the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., which has a staff of 179 people.

The Tennessee lottery raked in $10.8 million in sales on Jan. 20, the first day tickets were available. Retailers get a 6.5 percent commission on ticket sales.

As of Oct. 15, the lottery had transferred $174 million to the education bank account for higher education, according to the Tennessee lottery's Web site.

The next milestone was sending out requests for proposals from major vendors to sell the tickets, Gerlock said.

Board members of Oklahoma's lottery commission will decide the process of soliciting vendors, which traditionally have been convenience stores in other states.

Oklahoma's decision to enact a lottery follows a trend in the country that dates back to 1964 when New Hampshire residents approved a lottery to fund education, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site.

States without lotteries are mostly concentrated in the South. There also are no lotteries in Hawaii, Nevada and Utah, said Ian Pulsipher, policy analyst in fiscal affairs program for NCSL.

``Oklahoma, the fact that they haven't had lotteries all this time, it's not surprising that it's one of the states that recently created a lottery, given the surrounding states,'' Pulsipher said.

Oklahomans have crossed the state border for years to get lottery tickets in Texas, Kansas and Missouri.

With much of that revenue now expected to remain in Oklahoma, Henry expects it will provide a significant boost to state schools but says it won't be a cure-all.

``It won't address all of our funding challenges in education, but it is a good start,'' he said.

Henry has long favored a lottery to aid public education.

``I pushed for the education lottery as a state senator and later as a candidate for governor. On the campaign trail, I promised voters I would do everything I could to allow them to vote on the question,'' Henry told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Henry first introduced Senate Joint Resolution 24 in the state Legislature in February 2001. It died in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with some of the opposition coming from members of his own Democratic Party.

Henry's proposal the following year passed the Senate committee but didn't go anywhere then either.

It wasn't until March 2003 that legislators would approve a referendum allowing voters to consider the lottery.

``I certainly had my share of setbacks along the way, but I never thought about giving up the fight because I felt this was a great opportunity to do something big for education. Quitting was never an option for me,'' he said.

``I never wanted to create a lottery just for the sake of having a lottery. My only goal was to find a way to help education.''