THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 2, 2016………. A proposal that would cut the number of scratch-off games offered by the Florida Lottery was a big winner in a Senate committee Tuesday.
The Regulated Industries Committee backed the measure (SB 790), filed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon. The proposal would require the lottery, which now offers nearly 60 different scratch-off games, to scale back that number to 20, with the most expensive single card selling for $10.
Lee said the intent of the proposal is to protect residents in low-income areas and to reduce the size of the lottery, which reported $5.58 billion in sales during the past fiscal year.
“It appears that low-income citizens in our state are being targeted with advertising because that’s where they (lottery officials) believe the business is, which is what most businesses do when they’re trying to maximize their revenue,” said Lee, whose proposal was approved in an 8-2 vote.
Scratch-off tickets, which range in price from $1 to $25, accounted for $3.7 billion in sales in the past fiscal year, up from $3.4 billion the prior year.
Lottery representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Lee added that he views his proposal as a tax cut.
“As I understand it, any time you put money back in the pockets of the people of this state, they spend their money better than we do, and that’s kind of a tax cut,” Lee said. “I’m just trying to take the broadest view of returning revenue to the pockets of citizens, particularly those who need it most and those who can afford it least.”
Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, echoed Lee’s view that the state’s lottery has gotten too big.
“We’ve become addicted to this revenue stream, and that’s a shame,” Bradley said. “Because it takes money from many of our fellow citizens that can least afford it.”
The House version of the bill (HB 607) was backed 12-1 by the Government Operations Subcommittee on Jan. 13 and must still get through the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and State Affairs Committee.
Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who voted against the bill Tuesday, questioned the impact of the measure on education, as the lottery accounts for about 6 percent of the state’s total education budget.
“So if we pass this, you know we’re going to have to take an additional, substantial amount out of the education budget for the fiscal year which we’re doing the budget for,” Latvala said.
A staff analysis of the proposal indicates that if ticket prices were capped at $5, as the bill was initially proposed, state revenue would drop by $263.6 million. Lee did not have an estimate on the revenue reduction with tickets priced up to $10.
The committee’s support for the proposal, which must still clear two additional committees, came as the Florida Lottery announced Tuesday that — powered by Powerball sales — the agency sold $716 million in tickets in January, the most ever for a single month.
Of that total, more than $333 million was through scratch-off sales.
The prior one-month high was $539 million in March 2015.