Eddie Cheatham

Sen. Eddie Cheatham

Since the state of Arkansas began selling lottery tickets in 2009, about 30,000 students each year have received Academic Challenge Scholarships paid for with proceeds from the lottery.

However, revenue generated by lottery sales has steadily dropped off, from more than $100 million annually in the first years to about $90 million. As a consequence, the legislature this year restructured the way scholarships are awarded, to ensure that there is sufficient money in the program to pay for scholarships for all eligible students. Therefore, when graduating high school seniors qualify for lottery scholarships, their families will know with certainty the amounts the students will receive in each year they are in higher education.

In 2014 the next major question facing lottery officials will be whether or not to add electronic bingo and lottery games that an individual plays on a computer monitor. States that have added monitor games have increased lottery revenue dramatically.

However, many elected officials and religious leaders strongly oppose the idea of state government encouraging people to play a lottery game on a video monitor. They cite studies from other states that show that people with gambling problems often abuse monitor games.

A major difference between traditional lotteries and monitor games is the frequency of play. When you buy a lottery ticket like Mega Millions that pays off extraordinary amounts of money, you must wait several days or more until the winning numbers are announced. When you buy a scratch off ticket you know immediately whether you have won or lost, and experts say that the faster the pace of the game the greater the chances a person can get addicted to it. Electronic games generally are played at the fastest pace of all.

One reason that electronic games boost lottery revenue is that they are installed in clubs, bars and restaurants.

The retail outlets that currently sell lottery tickets in Arkansas are mainly grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and gas stations. As of November there were 1,890 retail stores in Arkansas that sold lottery tickets and fewer than one percent were bars and restaurants. That is significantly less than the national average of 7.6 percent of lottery retailers that are bars and restaurants.

The attorney general has issued an opinion saying that he found no prohibitions against electronic monitor games either in state law or in Amendment 87, the constitutional amendment approved by Arkansas voters in 2008 that authorizes the lottery.