CHEYENNE, Wyo.— The Wyoming Senate on Friday approved a bill that would allow a lottery and multi-state games such as Powerball in the state, but made a major change in how the proceeds will be used.
The measure, which passed on an 18-10 vote, heads back to the state House for consideration of the Senate changes.
Before approving House Bill 77, senators changed it to specify that any proceeds outside of the expenses and prizes will go to support the state school system, which is already among the best funded in the nation.
The House version of the bill had specified that proceeds would be distributed among local governments in the state.
Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, the main sponsor of the measure, said he knew there would be disagreement where the money should go. "I would like to hope that we won't lose the bill over that, but it is possible," Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said.
A statewide lottery has been continually shot down in the Legislature since the 1980s. Until this year, the lottery proposal had never even cleared the House, where revenue generating bills must generate.
Opponents say a statewide lottery is a regressive tax on poor residents who play the game. Proponents note that Wyoming loses millions of dollars a year from residents who play the lottery in neighboring states that offer it.
A Wyoming lottery is estimated to bring in about $25 million a year. After expenses and prizes, it is estimated to net the state about $6 million annually.
During debate Friday, the Senate voted 17-10 to adopt an amendment offered by Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, that directs lottery proceeds to a state fund that supports public schools. The chamber had defeated the same proposed change by Nicholas on Wednesday.
Nicholas succeeded on his second try after arguing that the proceeds would be more useful accumulating in a fund set up for long-term support of public schools.
"The perfect place is to put them in an endowment account ... an account that lives forever and will be there to help educate our kids and maybe teach them better math than to go out and buy lottery tickets," Nicholas said.
Wyoming spends more than $1 billion a year on its public school system, which has about 90,000 K-12 students, putting it among the highest in the nation in per-pupil spending.
Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, said cities, towns and counties, which get a share of state sales tax revenue every year, need the money for basic needs.
"You could fill your own potholes in your own town," Von Flatern, a co-sponsor of the bill, said.