by Max Brantley
The reporting in the Democrat-Gazette yesterday and today on Lottery Commission Chairman Dianne Lamberth instilled little confidence in lottery operations. An illegal unannounced commission meeting at which Lamberth introduced a discussion about running some kind of Arkansas lottery game with Oaklawn Park? Her husband is a Racing Commission member? Oaklawn disavows knowledge?
Call me suspicious.
The idea is supposedly modeled on a partnership between the Kentucky lottery and Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Democrat-Gazette obtained through an FOI a document about a "second-chance" lottery game with a horse racing theme. Following the Kentucky model, losing tickets presumably could be entered in a lottery to win trips to the track and marketing crapola. Other possibilities include this game, where lottery tickets were branded to tie in with the Breeders Cup race at the Kentucky track. More likely, since Scientific Games, a lottery vendor, was in on recent talks about the idea at the Arkansas Racing Commission, is a deal like this one just announced by a Scientific Games subsidiary. Churchill Downs gets paid to lend its name and names of its events such as the Kentucky Derby to instant-win lottery tickets.
Heckuva deal for the track: Lottery scratch-off ticket players pay a portion of their wagering dollars to market the race track and the race track gets not only the free marketing but a share of lottery players' dollars in a hefty licensing fee. Does track branding sell more tickets and produce more scholarship money, after the track's take?
Any way they slice it, the horse track would receive a direct pipeline of lottery dollars. This may not be illegal under the Arkansas Constitution's anti-gambling provision, but it certainly would be another mockery of it. From where I sit, a lottery subsidy is even worse than the electronic veil of illusion thrown up over the casino games (blackjack, roulette, craps, poker and multiple-choice slots) now offered at Oaklawn and Southland.
Oaklawn spokesman Terry Wallace says he knows nothing about a lottery tie-in. I believe him. But until I hear Oaklawn owner Charles Cella or track boss Eric Jackson say the track isn't interested, I'll continue to suspect it is in the works. (I have some doubts about Southland Park in West Memphis. Branding cachet in dog races? First prize, a day at the races at West Memphis. Second prize, two days in West Memphis.)
UPDATE: I've been forwarded Eric Jackson's categorical response on the lottery's talk of a potential deal with Oaklawn:
There has been no such meeting, no such discussion with anyone at Oaklawn. Period. We are as mystified as everyone else.