Nevada lawmakers did something recently that hadn’t been done since William McKinley occupied the White House.
They took an important procedural step to eventually give voters a second chance to repeal the state’s 159-year-old constitutional ban on lotteries.
The 12-8 vote in the Senate means AJR5, a proposed constitutional amendment removing the prohibition on state lotteries, will get a required second run through the 2025 legislative session.
If passed again, the measure goes to the 2026 general election ballot.
Gaming industry adviser Brendan Bussmann said that’s an outcome Nevada’s gaming industry does not want to see. He believes voters would pass a lottery ballot question. Nevada is one of five states without a statewide lottery.
“There is clear popularity for the measure in a gaming state and one that will be hard to stave off by the industry should it make it through the Legislature in 2025,” said Bussmann, managing partner of Las Vegas-based B2 Global.
Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas) is banking on that support.
He sponsored the constitutional amendment and was gratified by the Senate’s vote and passage in the Assembly in April. But he knows tactics will have to switch in 2025.
“It would be helpful going into the next session if there were some more structure around what (a lottery) could potentially look like,” Miller said in an interview May 29 at the Legislature. Miller has proposed that lottery revenue would be directed toward youth mental health programs.
“But that’s not what is even being considered right now,” Miller said. “What's being considered is if the people of Nevada want to amend their constitution to allow for a lottery.”
According to the California Lottery, the state’s two largest lottery ticket retailers are operated by Nevada gaming companies — Truckee Gaming’s Gold Ranch Casino & RV Resort in Verdi and Affinity Gaming, which has three casinos in Primm. Both outlets are on the California side of the state line, but their primary customers are Nevada residents.
“We know we're losing money as a state to other states, so why not recapture that money and target it toward something that is going to benefit our future?” Miller said.
According to a 2012 UNLV research paper, there have been more than two dozen legislative attempts to implement a Nevada lottery, starting in 1887. In 1899, state lawmakers passed a lottery proposal but the measure was defeated in the 1901 session. The last two efforts in 2011 and 2015 never made it out of committee.
So what changed in 2023?
“We have legislators that are taking kind of a different approach to how we attack everything,” Miller said. “So it just seems like it's just the right set of circumstances.”
He also noted the support by Culinary Workers Local 226, which, along with other labor groups, put their efforts behind the bill and the concept of channeling revenue toward youth mental health programs.
As expected, casino industry leaders banded together in opposition to the lottery bill.
Lobbyist Nick Vassiliadis, who represents the Nevada Resort Association, raised a point about the bill during his testimony in April. The bill makes no mention of mental health issues.
In an interview Monday, Vassiliadis said the onus will be on the gaming industry to provide more depth on the potential policy implications of Nevada legalizing a state lottery.
“It's wildly popular, in concept and we know that as an industry,” he said.
But the sale of lottery tickets is different from operating a casino resort.
“It’s a departure from gaming policy in this state,” Vassiliadis said. “There used to be an understanding that some sort of economic investment was part of the responsibility that a gaming establishment would have to receive a gaming license.”
His complaint about the lottery stems from the lack of job creation.
“There are no jobs being created. This is a machine that goes into a 7/11 that people can just walk up to and buy tickets from,” Vassiliadis said. “That’s a pretty big departure from gaming policy and I think we want to at least have an open conversation about it.”
This story was published May 31 by The Nevada Independent and is republished here with permission.