Incoming House speaker wants voters to decide lottery’s future

By Steven Anthony

JEFFERSON CITY — The current House Majority Leader and expected House speaker next year has proposed letting Missouri voters decide the future of the state’s lottery.

John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said his motivation behind the proposal is transparency on whether the lottery is really helping to fund education.

“We need to look at how people are being misled about the lottery and not addressing the fundamental cost of public education and the government’s role in promoting gambling, often to those who can least afford it,” Diehl said in a statement.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said he is concerned as to where the money would come from if the proposal passes.

“It is funds that are dedicated to education and if we did do away with gambling, we’d have to come up with that $270 million to $290 million from some other source,” Pearce said.

House Education Committee Chairman Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, said the proposal is a good idea.

“The idea of using lottery money for education is kind of a backdoor way of funding something that we feel is very significant,” Lair said.

Diehl’s proposal comes as the Missouri Lottery has come under criticism for expanding its administrative costs and advertising while having less funds available for education.

Diehl has been selected by the House Republican Caucus to be its candidate for House speaker. The formal election by the full House will take place on the Legislature’s opening day in early January.

In September, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said it was time to take a “fresh look” at the relationship between the lottery and education funding.

This is also after Nixon appointed five new lottery commissioners, most of whom have an educational background.

If the proposed amendment were put on the ballot and approved by voters, Missouri would join Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah as the only states without a lottery.