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Minnesota Senators vote to pull the plug on online lottery games

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators left no doubt they think the lottery director overstepped his authority in allowing online games as they voted Thursday to outlaw them. A bill by Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, passed 56-8 to forbid the Minnesota L...

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Dabloons is a game the Minnesota Lottery offers online. However, the Senate overwhelmingly voted Thursday, May 7,2015, to end online games. (Image from Minnesota Lottery Website)



ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators left no doubt they think the lottery director overstepped his authority in allowing online games as they voted Thursday to outlaw them.

A bill by Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, passed 56-8 to forbid the Minnesota Lottery from offering games online, at automated teller machines and on fuel pumps.

"It is very important for the Legislature to exercise its authority to regulate the lottery," Koenen said. "I believe the lottery exceeded its authority when it began to sell its instant-win tickets online."


At the same time, it appears Gov. Mark Dayton's stand has softened since he vetoed a similar bill last year. Dayton this week said he will wait to see what the bill looks like if it passes before deciding whether he would sign it.

A similar bill awaits action in the House, which like in the Senate, easily passed the provision a year ago.

The lottery put games online several years ago.

Sen. Greg Clausen, D-Apple Valley, failed in his effort to amend Koenen's bill to pay fuel retailers that could lose money if the state ends lottery sales at pumps.

"I believe that business owners acted in good faith," Clausen said, so it is not their fault if the state abruptly stops pump lottery sales.

Clausen said he has received reports that it could cost up to $80,000 for stores to replace fuel pumps that have lottery terminals.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul, also lost her attempt to allow the lottery to continue to operate the electronic games until 2018, when its contract with a game operator would expire. She said that while the state can end a contract early, it could cost taxpayers up to $12 million.

Sen. Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, questioned the price tag of ending the game. He said that an estimate of less than $3 million last year has quadrupled now.


The lottery has a $30 million fund that could be used to cover the cost of ending the contract, Skoe said.

"There is no good public policy to use this gambling mechanism for government," Skoe added.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, opposed Koenen's bill because the cost of canceling the contract would mean the state would lose money. She said that money could be used for other things, such as health programs.

Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten was not happy with the bill's passage.

"We remain committed to working with the Minnesota Legislature to ensure the Minnesota Lottery is the best run in the nation and delivers on its mission to provide important funding to the state's general fund and environmental trust funds," Van Petten said.

In other legislative developments:

  •  Senators voted 34-25 to establish limits on how long to retain video from law enforcement body cameras. In many cases, video would be kept between 90 days and a year, but would be kept longer if the video was part of a court case or if an officer was involved in a physical altercation. Most video would not be public, unless it is recorded in a place where people would expect events to be public. The legislation does not address when officers should turn cameras on or off. The House has no similar bill and there is opposition among key House players.
  •  Gov. Mark Dayton and the top two legislative leaders will have plenty to discuss as they share a boat Saturday at the governor's fishing opener. As the Legislature nears its May 18 adjournment deadline, they have agreed, or are close to agreement, on the easier spending bills, one for agriculture and environmental programs and another for public safety and the courts. They remain far apart on most of the $40 billion-plus two-year budget, although Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, have met several times in recent days.
  •  A railroad union leader said that House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, has rejected his requests for an oil train rail safety hearing or to meet with House leaders. "The House appears to be listening only to the railroad contract lobbyists rather than the legitimate concerns of Minnesotans," said Phillip Qualy of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transit Union. Qualy was responding to a Forum News Service story in which Kelly said that railroads are best to determine rail safety needs and legislators do not have that expertise.
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