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State lottery bill appears dead — again

CARSON CITY — A bill to let voters decide whether to legalize a state lottery appears to be dead after the chairman of the Senate committee in control of the bill said members do not want to conduct a hearing on it.

Senate Government Affairs Chairman John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said Monday that he twice he polled his seven committee members and both times at least five told him they oppose Assembly Joint Resolution 7 and do not want a hearing.

If the resolution is not approved by the end of the day Friday, it is dead for the remainder of the 2009 Legislature.

"I am not going to hold a hearing on something the committee doesn’t want," said Lee, who refused to name the other members who oppose the bill.

Lee long has opposed lotteries on the grounds they attract poor people who cannot afford to gamble away their grocery money.

Earlier Monday, Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, said Lee was trying to avoid a vote because of his personal opposition. Aizley sponsored the lottery resolution that passed the Assembly 31-11.

Supporters had thought that the resolution probably would be approved by the Senate as well because Democrats hold majorities in both houses for the first time since 1991. Aizley said it marks the 25th time since the 1970s that the Legislature has killed a lottery resolution.

Lee’s committee has two more hearings before the Friday deadline and the lottery resolution is not on the agenda of either of them. Aizley held out hope that the resolution might be referred to another Senate committee that would approve it. Lee said he was not aware of such a step being taken in the past.

"All it (the resolution) does is enable the people of Nevada to vote on whether they want a lottery," Aizley said. "Some of the churches are against it."

Lee is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members generally have voted against allowing a state lottery.

But in a February interview, he said his church membership had nothing to do with why he opposes a state lottery. "I think it is a tax on the poor," he said.

"When somebody goes to store to buy two gallons of milk, they end up buying one and spending the rest on lottery tickets," Lee said. "The kids go to school hungry. Wealthy people aren’t going to use a lottery to get ahead. The people who have nothing else to grasp for are going to be attracted to it."

Contacted in Salt Lake City, LDS spokesman Marc Stevens said the church has not taken a position on a Nevada lottery.

"However, in principle the church opposes government-sponsored lotteries," he added.

Aizley said Lee’s argument against the lottery is an argument against gambling.

"I wonder if they are against gambling?" Aizley asked, adding that he was asked by gaming lobbyists not to introduce the resolution. "There is something else behind it (the opposition). The Senate side at least should hold a hearing."

The lottery proposal must pass both houses of the Legislature this year and again in 2011 before it can be placed before voters in 2012. If it passes, then the Legislature in 2013 would decide whether to have a state- or privately-run lottery, or whether to go in with other states on a massive lottery such as Powerball in which winners can secure hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lotteries have been outlawed in Nevada since the state constitution was drawn up in 1864.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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