BOISE – Legislation allowing the Powerball lottery and its huge jackpots to continue in Idaho cleared the House on Tuesday and headed to the Senate.
The House voted 41-25 to approve the measure that allows the state to continue participating in the game after it expands to the United Kingdom and Australia later this year.
The legislation notes that the lottery dividend will bring more than $200 million to Idaho public schools and other state funds over the next 10 years.
Opponents said gambling is bad and can cause problems for those who are addicted. But the Idaho Constitution explicitly allows a state lottery.
Specifically, the legislation amends Idaho law to give the Idaho Lottery Commission authority to enter into agreements with the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs Powerball, so that the state can continue to participate in Powerball when the association adds the United Kingdom and Australia later this year. Powerball already includes Canada.
Republican Rep. Jason Monks sponsored the bill. He said he opposed gambling but said this wasn’t a bill banning gambling. He said other lotteries and forms of gambling would continue in Idaho if lawmakers chose to kill Powerball.
“To me, that’s picking a winner and picking a loser,” he said.
Republican Rep. Heather Scott opposed the legislation.
“I don’t like the fact we’re going into communist countries,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense that Idaho wants to expand our gambling into communist countries.”
Scott added as she wrapped up her debate: “I don’t know why you’re all laughing, but I don’t appreciate it.”
Neither the United Kingdom nor Australia operate under a communist form of government. Monks later appeared to interpret Scott’s remarks as having to do with coronavirus pandemic restrictions the two countries had put in place.
Other objections had to do with enticing more people to gamble due to bigger jackpots with more players. But Monks noted more players also meant the chances increased of someone matching all the numbers and winning, possibly keeping jackpots smaller.
Monks also noted that the odds of winning remained the same no matter how many players take part because the game is based on the chances of particular numbers being selected. If there are multiple winners, jackpots are split.
Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug noted that he fought against a 1986 initiative approved by voters that allowed a lottery in Idaho.
“The Baptists, the Mormons, we were all against it,” said Skaug, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It came in. It’s been going on a long time now. I don’t like this expansion.”
A similar bill died in a House committee last year in a move that appeared to end Powerball in Idaho. But the Multi-State Lottery Association last year failed to finalize a deal adding the other countries, allowing the game to continue in Idaho.
Idaho’s biggest Powerball winner was a resident of the small southwestern city of Star, who won $220 million in 2005.
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