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Quad-City TimesTouchPlay lottery games get candidates’ attention at forum

February 4, 2006
Copyright Quad-City Times
By Dan Gearino

DES MOINES - Six candidates for governor made their pitches Friday to newspaper executives here with each candidate staking out a position on how to deal with the Iowa Lottery’s TouchPlay game.

The forum was hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Association, which held its annual newspaper awards dinner Friday night in Des Moines.

Three Democrats - former Iowa Department of Economic Development director Mike Blouin, Secretary of State Chet Culver and Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge - defended the lottery and said the controversy over the slot-machine-like game is overheated.

Culver accused critics of the lottery of grandstanding. Blouin said Iowa Lottery director Ed Stanek has probably “taken a bum rap.” Judge warned against “knee-jerk reactions.”

The other three candidates spoke against TouchPlay.

Rep. Ed Fallon, a Democrat, said he opposes the expansion of gambling and said any financial gains for the state are at the expense of citizens’ losses

Sioux City business executive Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican, said TouchPlay brings “a little of Vegas” to Iowa. He supports removal of the machines. “This was just plain wrong,” he said.

Sioux City engineer Sal Mohamed, a Democrat, described himself as a gambling opponent.

The only high-profile candidate who didn’t appear at the event was U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle, a Republican.

Each candidate spoke out in favor of issues important to newspapers, such as increasing access to government records and limiting the use of closed-door meetings.

“There has been an erosion of open meetings law over the last 6 to 8 years. … It’s wrong and it needs to be stopped,” Judge said.

Fallon said his gubernatorial administration would be far more open than the current governor, Democrat Tom Vilsack, who is not seeking re-election.

Blouin spoke praised the governor of Montana for adopting an open-door policy with the news media, allowing access to nearly all of his meetings. “I’d like to find a way to do that,” Blouin said.

“We need to shine the light on every aspect of our government process,” Culver said.

The candidates rarely engaged each other. One exception occurred when Blouin touted his support for ethanol production and said Culver “doesn’t know what he’s talking about” when it comes to renewable energy.

Afterwards, Blouin said he wasn’t making a personal attack, but merely wanted to highlight his own expertise on the subject.

Culver did not reply during the event. On renewable energy, Culver said he is proposing that the state invest in attracting manufacturers that would build equipment that uses locally-produced fuels.

Blouin said this approach would give the state too little bang for its buck.

Vilsack urges calmness on video games

The day after the Iowa House speaker ratcheted up his calls for an overhaul at the Iowa Lottery, Gov. Tom Vilsack urged the sides in the debate to calm down.

“I think it’s important for everybody to kind of tone the rhetoric down a little bit, and let’s focus on the real problems here,” Vilsack said Friday.

The governor has convened a special panel that is studying the lottery’s TouchPlay machines, a series slot-machine-like games that are in roughly 5,000 retail outlets, with another 5,000 on order. The machines - located in bars, restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores - have come under fire from anti-gambling activists and the casino industry.

Lottery Director Ed Stanek told a legislative committee Thursday that lawmakers had advance notice of the lottery’s plan to locate the machines in gas stations.

House Speaker Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, responded to this by accusing Stanek of misleading the Legislature. Rants held a news conference to say that he was asking the governor to take away much of the lottery’s autonomy by placing it under the supervision of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Vilsack said he’s not “in the middle of this contest between folks” over TouchPlay.

“I am concerned about coming up with a plan to deal with TouchPlay so children are not affected, so that problem gamblers should not have more opportunities than they should, and that those who might be intoxicated do not have access to these machines,” the governor said.

He said he was focused more on preparing for a possible flu pandemic, which was the subject of the event where reporters asked him questions about the lottery.

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