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Florida Lottery Warnings Could Be Roll Of The Dice

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- The Florida Lottery wants another look at the potential impact on education funding from legislation that would require slapping gambling-addiction warning labels on the front of tickets and ads.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting closer to deciding whether to approve the bill (HB 629), which passed the House and Senate in early May.

An initial projection about the bill's impact on education funding was made in March. But, appearing Wednesday before state economists, Florida Lottery Director of Product Shelly Gerteisen said officials have subsequently learned that the warning labels could affect the state's participation in multi-state games such as Powerball and Mega Millions and end scratch-off games that feature the TV shows "The Price is Right" and "Wheel of Fortune" and board games Monopoly and Scrabble.

Gerteisen also advised economists, who serve as the state Revenue Estimating Conference, that the added gambling-addiction language could require printing larger tickets, which would increase costs and potentially affect contracts with retailers that provide vending machine games.

"All of these groups have voiced significant opposition to this bill," Gerteisen said.

The measure, which has not formally been sent to DeSantis, requires the following warnings to be prominently placed on the front of all Lottery tickets: "Warning: Lottery games may be addictive," or "Play responsibly."

DeSantis said Thursday he's concerned about the bill and would have an announcement shortly.

Former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar measure in 2017, saying it would impose "burdensome regulations" on the games and retailers.

The Florida Lottery, which already encourages customers to "play responsibly" and promotes a toll-free number about gambling problems, would become the first in the nation to include warning labels similar to what can be found on cigarette packs.

Gerteisen said the late-emerging opposition could result in hundreds of millions of dollars being lost that would otherwise go to the state Educational Enhancement Trust Fund to help pay for education programs.

State economists didn't take such a dire view, questioning if other states involved in the multi-state games would risk losing revenue from Florida because of the warning and questioning whether adding a label would drive away retailers and consumers.

Don Langston, staff director for the House Finance & Tax Committee, said even if the state lost the Monopoly game, people would still want to play.

"Lottery will create new games," Langston said.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature's Office of Economic & Demographic Research, said she doesn't anticipate a significant exodus of vendors "because they're making money" from the lottery.

The bill would require the two warnings to be evenly distributed, meaning half of the tickets would need to showcase the "addictive" statement and the other half "Play responsibly."

An initial version of the bill proposed a warning that said: "Warning: Playing a Lottery game constitutes gambling and may lead to addiction and/or compulsive behavior. The chances of winning a big prize are very low."

With the state on pace to top a record $6.7 billion in sales in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the state economists had projected that initial proposal would result in a 3.5 percent reduction in lottery sales.

While Gerteisen said the new warnings are projected to cut play by 2.5 percent, a bigger hit could come if the lottery loses popular games because of concerns about the "addictive" warning.

The Monopoly trademarked game, the most successful scratch-off brand, has raised $114 million this year for the education trust fund, Gerteisen said.

Meanwhile, no longer participating in Powerball would result in a $56.3 million hit to the trust fund, she said.

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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