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Arkansas House passes bill to abolish lottery commission, put games under state control


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Gov. Asa Hutchinson will sign a bill to abolish the state's independent lottery commission and place the games under his supervision, a spokesman for the governor said Tuesday after House members endorsed the change.

The overhaul met little resistance in both chambers and was approved 84-3 in the House. Under the bill, the state Department of Finance and Administration will take control of the lottery, Hutchinson will appoint a games director and the existing appointed nine-member Lottery Commission will be dissolved.

Voters approved the lottery in 2008 to raise money for college scholarship, but its revenue has been declining due to decreased ticket sales.

Hutchinson proposed the overhaul after a report from a consultant in December that the lottery needed to "reboot" its image. The lottery's original director, Ernie Passailaigue, resigned in 2011 after facing criticism over a legislative audit about the games' management and his $324,000 salary.

Proponents said the change could help stem the decline in revenue for college scholarships and save money by eliminating lottery positions that have similar duties already being performed by the state finance department.

"The simple fact that we all know is the lottery in Arkansas is in trouble," said Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, who presented the bill. "Big policy changes must be made."

Democratic Rep. Fredrick Love of Little Rock cast one of the few opposing votes. He said after the meeting that he was worried about abolishing the independent commission and doesn't want student scholarships to become politicized.

It's unclear what other changes are planned for the lottery. When asked whether lottery director Bishop Woosley would be retained, Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said there aren't any immediate plans for personnel changes.

Woosley said he would "absolutely love" to stay on as director, but plans to work on a transition plan with the governor's office regardless.

"We will do everything we can to work with them to make this lottery as successful as possible to support the students of Arkansas," Woosley said.

He also thanked past and present members of the independent commission.

"They should be commended for the time and effort they put into this mission for the people of Arkansas," Woosley said.

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