No TouchPlay Ban Expected

But restrictions seen as inevitable

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Legislature will not ban TouchPlay machines in the state, but likely will restrict the spread of the machines, Senate Democratic Leader Michael Gronstal said, according to the Associated Press. "I do not expect that these machines will be completely outlawed, and I do not expect the continued expansion will be allowed," he said late last week.

The debate over the video lottery machines has gripped the legislature during the opening month of the session. In 2002, the legislature approved a measure authorizing the video lottery [image-nocss] machines. Lottery officials initially moved slowly to develop the machines, but their use has spread rapidly in the past year.

More than 5,000 have been installed in bars, convenience stores and grocery stores across the state. Another 4,000 are on order. Featuring flashing lights and noisy sound effects, critics say the machines are virtually identical to slot machines and amount to a dramatic expansion of the state's gambling industry.

As reported in CSP Daily News, Governor Tom Vilsack ordered a moratorium on expansion of the machines and named a task force to study the issue. The task force last week agreed on recommendations to restrict access to the machines by building barriers around them and increasing efforts to restrict use by minors. A final report is expected early next month.

Much of the opposition to the new lottery games comes from the casino industry, which is worried about competition from the TouchPlay machines.

It is a complex issue with financial implications for lawmakers, AP said. When the Iowa Lottery began offering the machines, many businesses signed long-term contracts to offer TouchPlay, investing up to $100 million in the machines. Should the state ban the machines, it could face up to $200 million in liability as well as up to $50 million in annual profits.

Other state lawmakers have vowed to push for a ban on the machines. "I don't think they are a good idea," said House Speaker Chris Rants (R). "I don't think it should look like Las Vegas when you land at the Sioux City airport."