Jan. 23, 2003 – Amid all the hue and cry over the legalization of video lottery terminal operations and whether it should be repealed, one senator has taken a different tack.
Given that the VLT's, at least right now, are legal on St. Thomas and St. John, Sen. Carlton Dowe submitted a bill to the legislative legal counsel's office Thursday directing that 35 percent of revenues received by the V.I. Lottery from private contractors licensed to operate lottery games in the territory go to into the public school Impress Funds.
Dowe, who voted for the override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's third veto of VLT's, said the money generated by his bill "will be significant, since the territory has now granted permission to Caribbean Lotto, Powerball and video lottery to operate legally within our shores."
Last July, Dowe was a sponsor of legislation, since signed into law, calling for an increase in the base level of the Education Initiative Fund, also known as the Impress Fund, to $50,000 from $10,000. The bill also called for the assigning of a fiscal officer to each junior and senior high school, the establishment of a substitute teacher pool and the authorizing of school principals to pay their own substitute teachers.
On Thursday, Dowe said in a release that his new bill "will provide the revenues to accomplish what that act has authorized." He said lottery systems across the nation have enabled may communities to meet critical needs for funding in public education. "Lottery money is now an integral component in the school financing formula for many states, and it's about time the islands follow that pattern," he said.
Dowe said he has asked Senate President David Jones to have the legal counsel's office draft the legislation immediately and to send it to the Education Committee for public hearings. "I believe the hearings are necessary so the public can appreciate the benefits this measure will have on our educational system," he said.
Figuring how much money the various lotteries could bring to the government's coffers is not easy.
Terms of the government's contract with Caribbean Lottery Services Inc., released in January 2002, provide for the company to turn over 10 percent of its gross receipts to the V.I. Lottery in each of the 10 years of its contract with the V.I. government. At the end of the 10 years, Caribbean Lottery will have the option of extending the contract for two successive five-year periods.
In November, the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees Powerball, approved the territory's participation in that game. Ed Lewis, vice president for government operations of Leeward Islands Lottery Holding Co., parent company of Caribbean Lottery Services, said at a public hearing: "Powerball will be a boon to the territory."
"It's very powerful," Lewis said then. "It will be very beneficial to the V.I. It will increase the 10 percent CLS now pays to the V.I. Lottery." Lewis estimated Powerball could bring in about $3.5 million a year to the V.I. Lottery's ailing coffers.
Lottery director Austin Andrews agreed at the time. "It will bring in some serious money," he said. Andrews said that in its first 10 months of operation in the territory, CLS paid the V.I. Lottery an average of about $80,000 per month.
As for revenues from the VLT's, the only figure that has been publicly mentioned came from the company that has the contract for their operation: As debate was raging last August 2002, print newspapers and the broadcast media were inundated with advertising in a pro-lottery campaign developed by Austin Advertising promoting Southland Gaming of the V.I., the company contracted by the V.I. Lottery Commission more than four years ago to install and operate the territory's VLT's.
One ad asked and answered: "Want $20 million? Video lottery will bring in an extra $20 million a year to our government revenues."
Senate President David Jones and other proponents of video lottery operations in the territory claim the VLT's will provide a steady source of revenue which can be used for the school system.

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