Gov. Terry Branstad twice vetoed lottery proposals from the Legislature in 1983 and 1984, calling it “government preying on people’s false hopes for instant wealth.” He finally approved the lottery in 1985.
“The governor’s concerns remained, but thousands and thousands of Iowans sent him a message with discarded Illinois lottery tickets that were delivered to his office,” said spokesman Tim Albrecht.
A 2011 study of Iowa residents’ gambling behaviors showed that about 90 percent of state residents had bought lottery tickets in their lifetime and that playing the lottery ranked among Iowans’ favorite forms of gambling. That study — conducted by the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa, using state funding — said 6.3 percent of adults in Iowa have experienced at least one symptom of problem gambling at some point in their lifetime.
But it’s likely a much smaller number of people who have a problem specifically with lottery tickets. Polly Carver-Kimm, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said about 5 percent of the 367 people admitted for “problem gambling” treatment through the state Gambling Treatment Program between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, identified lottery tickets as a problem.
Tom Coates, the director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines and a longtime anti-gambling activist, said the lottery opened the door for other kinds of gambling in Iowa, like casinos, and normalizes gambling.
“It’s not as an addictive an activity as the casinos. It desensitizes the Iowa public into further acceptance of the casinos,” Coates said.
The lottery proceeds have gone to a number of causes over the years, like economic development and environmental interests, but today the vast majority of the money goes into the state general fund, which powers the overall state budget. A small amount goes to the Veterans’ Trust Fund.
As an agency, the Iowa Lottery is a sizable operation, with 116 full-time staffers spread out across the state. Rich gets an annual salary of $195,104, which is set by the governor. The overall agency budget for operating expenses for the current fiscal year is about $13 million, another $11.7 million is earmarked for advertising and nearly $19 million will go to the retailers who sell tickets.