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News >  Idaho

Idaho House rejects ban on state lottery’s electronic touch-tab machines

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 7, 2017

Cruiser's Bar & Grill bartender Laneith Veo talks about the popularity of Idaho Lottery's "touch tab" vending machines at the bar in Stateline, Idaho on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Cruiser's Bar & Grill bartender Laneith Veo talks about the popularity of Idaho Lottery's "touch tab" vending machines at the bar in Stateline, Idaho on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – The Idaho House on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected legislation to ban the Idaho Lottery’s electronic pull-tab machines, in a Republican-vs.-Republican fight that pitted the evils of gambling against the threat of the “nanny state.”

In the end, the bill only mustered 18 “yes” votes in the 70-member House, all from Republicans. Fifty-two representatives, including 41 Republicans and all 11 Democrats, voted “no.”

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, the bill’s sponsor, told the House that on a recent visit to a local tavern with other lawmakers, he observed a man continuously playing an electronic touch-tab machine.

“He was gambling,” Harris said. “He had lost the innocence of the lottery.”

Harris argued that while the machines are legal, the Legislature still should ban them, because they enable people to rapidly and continuously make bets.

Last year, the machines brought in $3 million in profits, more than half of which went to Idaho’s schools, with the rest going to the state’s Permanent Building Fund.

The bill was proposed by a group called “Stop Predatory Gambling,” which argued that people could bet up to $9,000 an hour on the machines – though state lottery statistics showed the average betting on the machines is just $7.03 an hour. The touch-tab games, which are located in 144 bars or taverns around the state, range in price from 25 cents to $2.50.

Harris said he wasn’t arguing that the electronic pull tabs are slot machines. But he said the state should draw a line “between the ‘Hogs and Kisses’ scratch ticket and the casino floor.” ‘Hogs and Kisses’ is one of the scratch ticket games offered by the Idaho Lottery.

“Someone gets to draw the line, and that’s us,” he said.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said that “smacks of elitism.” He said rather than “protect the public from themselves,” he favors “allowing the individual to make choices for themselves.”

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, read from a 2009 Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that concluded the electronic touch-tab vending machines are not slot machines.

“I don’t believe we’re here to get into individuals’ personal lives. I don’t think that we’re here to be, if I may, a nanny state,” he said. “I believe that we’re here to set people free, let them live their lives, and have as little government as we possibly can.”

The vote on the bill was so overwhelmingly negative that Harris was awarded the “crow,” a decorated statue of a crow that’s passed around to the representative who gets 18 or fewer votes in the 70-member House; that member then keeps the crow until another member earns it.

But the bill’s death doesn’t end Idaho lawmakers’ debate over gambling. House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he’s planning to propose legislation on Wednesday aimed at targeting tribal gaming, which Idaho voters endorsed in a 2002 initiative.

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