Wyoming has a history with lotteries and it hasn’t been all that good. According to wyomingtalesandtrails.com, Wyoming’s current lottery wasn’t the first. James Monroe Pattee’s 1875 "Wyoming Lottery" was, they say, fraudulent. “There were many 50-cent winners, but little else.”
Wyoming’s current lottery isn’t fraudulent. Neither is it all it was cracked up to be. Wyoming was gambling when it created the lottery. Some might argue that we lost.
Something’s wrong. It has been nearly three years since the legislature approved the lottery. The bill passed the State House by a single vote. Apprehensions haven’t lessened as the news about the lottery seems to be mostly disappointing.
Some legislators who were reluctant to agree with the scheme were persuaded the lottery would benefit their communities. Their constituents were promised proceeds from lottery ticket purchases would funnel millions to cities, towns, and schools. That’s not happening. Now lottery officials claim to be on the verge of distributing a piddling $200,000 later this year.
The lottery would have been defeated if legislators had known that nearly three years after start up, cities, towns, and schools could share a whopping 200,000-dollar jackpot. This is no laughing matter as the state is starring down a huge budget deficit that will deprive the cities, towns, and schools with badly needed funding.
But while the lottery has been unable to keep its promise to fund these programs, millions of lottery dollars have flowed into salaries, overhead, marketing contracts, and lawyers.
Worse, the so-called “quasi-government” entity the legislature created to run the show puts itself above accountability. The Corporation refuses to be transparent, setting policies as though it was a private enterprise entity that can hold proprietary secrets.
One sage said the lottery is a tax, albeit levied only on people who are poor in math. Maybe it’s not a tax in the strictest terms but every dollar comes from the public. Voters and their representatives were a bit timid about the lottery in the first place. One might think the officials who administer it would consider those opinions and bend over backwards to make sure everything they did was open to public scrutiny.
Now we learn that the Commission has taken out loans or lines of credit but it is none of our business how much and under what terms. The lottery board has a “public information policy” that keeps loan activity secret. They forgot they are playing with the house’s money and the public is the house.
To top it off, while there’s no money to share with cities, towns, and schools, there is plenty enough to hire high-priced lawyers to bring a lawsuit against Ed Atchison, a citizen who dared to question them.
When opponents raised concerns about gambling addiction, $200,000 of unclaimed prize money was earmarked to design gambling addiction programs at the Department of Health. Obviously, the legislature expected the Commission to take this issue seriously. In Atchison’s opinion, they didn’t. He made an issue of their decisions.
When one corporate officer complained about Mr. Atchison to the Wyoming Department of Health, she was told, “It's a balance between letting individuals voice their concerns, provide feedback, etc. while not letting personal agendas interfere with the larger picture.”
That, not a lawsuit, is the response of a public servant who respects the role of advocates in our system. I won’t offer opinions on the legitimacy of the lawsuit. The Court will decide those issues. But a lawsuit seems a heavy-handed alternative to dealing with criticism. What’s more, it’s an odd use of Lottery Commission resources when they haven’t yet been able to distribute a dime to cities, towns, and schools.
Given the Commission’s ill-considered obsession with secrecy and its failure to produce the promised revenue, it’s time for the legislature to reconsider the lottery or, in the very least, to seriously question the manner in which it is being managed.
As Kenny Rogers said, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em. You gotta know when to fold ‘em.”