LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday he has a "natural reluctance" toward extending police powers to the state lottery.
LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday he has a “natural reluctance” toward extending police powers to the state lottery.
The governor spoke a day after members of the state Lottery Commission authorized Lottery Director Bishop Woosley to tell the Legislative Oversight Committee on the lottery that they are interested in pursuing police powers in the 2013 legislative session. Lawmakers rejected a previous request from the lottery for police powers in 2010.
Beebe said he would be reluctant to extend police powers to any agency that does not already have them, but he would give any proposal due consideration.
“I’ll try to keep an open mind and listen to what the reasons are before I come to a final conclusion, but there is a natural reluctance on my part initially against that sort of thing,” Beebe said.
Having police powers would allow the agency to designate certain employees as law enforcement officers with the ability to investigate suspected criminal activity related to the lottery. The results of their investigations would be turned over to local prosecutors.
Several state agencies currently have police powers, including the Game and Fish Commission, the Forestry Commission and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Department of Finance and Administration. Most recently, the state attorney general’s office obtained police powers by an act of the Legislature in 2009.
The governor said Tuesday he believes there are advantages to having law enforcement agencies unconnected to the lottery investigate suspected lottery fraud.
“There’s always good checks and balances in something like that, and you know we have police agencies that do a lot of that stuff. But I’ll listen,” he said.
The Christian conservative Family Council, which opposed the 2008 constitutional amendment that established the lottery to fund college scholarships, can be expected to oppose any expansion of the lottery’s powers.
President Jerry Cox wrote Tuesday on the group’s blog, “If the people tasked with watching for fraud and illegal activity within the lottery are employed by the lottery, that sounds like a recipe for corruption to me. Part of the idea behind ‘separation of powers’ in government is to keep the other members of government honest. Putting certain agencies in charge of policing others protects that accountability.”
Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said Tuesday he would “disagree completely” with the claim that giving law enforcement authority to the lottery would invite corruption. He said he would expect more cases to be prosecuted if lottery personnel could conduct criminal investigations.
“The lottery is a complicated industry, and it has terms and a vernacular, so to speak, and procedures and things of that nature that are specific to the lottery,” he said. “It’s difficult to walk into a jurisdiction or a police department and try and convey those in a short time period when you have an existing or urgent type of investigation that you have to do. Us being able to go in and help, or take control of an investigation if need be, would be helpful.”
State Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, co-chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the lottery, said he opposed police powers for the lottery in 2010 and would be inclined to oppose them again unless lottery officials can show a legitimate need.
“I felt like we had law enforcement agencies already in place that could adequately deal with lottery crimes as they deal with other theft, fraud and other types of crimes,” Key said.
When then-lottery director Ernie Passailaigue asked for police powers for the lottery in early 2010, the lottery was only a few months old. Since then, a number of lottery fraud cases have been prosecuted around the state.
Key said that was to be expected.
“There are always going to be people who want to exploit, want to take advantage, will violate (laws), and the lottery’s no different. I’m still not sure at this point if the increase in criminal activity regarding the lottery is reason enough for us to go down that road, but I’m willing to listen to them,” he said.