Ban on lottery lifted; municipal fines cap remains

By Megan R. Harrell

   If it were up to Carter County alone, both referendums in the general election would have been defeated, but after the entire state weighed in, only one was struck down. The limit on municipal fines remained in place, while the constitutional ban on a state lottery was lifted.
   Today, Tennessee is the closest it has ever been to seeing the adoption of a state lottery. The lottery referendum survived the election even though a Tennessean poll completed last week, showed support for a lottery in Tennessee dropping by 10 percentage points, from 63 to 53 percent.
   Listed as "Question 1" on the ballot, the lottery referendum was defeated by only 13 votes in Carter County, according to unofficial results.
   However, it passed with 58 percent of voters across the state in its favor, and approximately 42 percent against it.
   The referendum allows voters to successfully lift the state's constitutional ban on a lottery system; however, it does not enact a state lottery. The referendum amends the constitution to allow the General Assembly to vote on the issue in the future.
   A two thirds majority vote is needed in both houses before a lottery can be adopted in the state. If legislatures approve a lottery system, a department that will oversee the program will have to be established.
   The passage of the amendment is a huge step on what has been a long road for lottery supporters. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made at bringing a lottery to Tennessee in the past. The current amendment finally cleared both houses in the General Assembly in 2001, which placed it on ballots in this year's General Election.
   Supporters of the referendum are excited about the notion lottery money will now be spent inside Tennessee's state lines. One of the lotto's most public supporters, State Sen. Stephen Cohen (D-Memphis) has been working for almost two decades to lift the ban on a lottery.
   "The Angels won the World Series this year after 40 years. I guess 18 years isn't too long," Cohen said.
   The final decision comes much to the dismay of several citizens who believe the lottery will corrupt state government and its people. Cohen admitted the margin of victory would have been much larger if churches had not come out as strongly as they did against the amendment.
   Michael Gilstrap, campaign director for the anti-lottery Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance, stated he is disappointed with the results but believes his campaign effected the overall outcome.
   "The reality is, we had an opportunity to influence the voters and we had an opportunity in the marketplace of ideas to make our case," Gilstrap said.
   The second referendum on the ballot was the municipal fines amendment. Although 53 percent of voters supported the amendment and 47 percent opposed it, an approval that equaled more than half of the votes cast in the gubernatorial race was needed in order for the referendum to pass. It is known as "Question 2" on the ballot, and called for the fine limit on municipal courts to be lifted.
   Nearly 60 percent of the votes cast on the issue in Carter County were against the second referendum, while 41 percent voted in favor of allowing the city to enforce heavier fines on those violating ordinances.
   The Tennessee Constitution currently prohibits cities from administering fines greater than $50 unless they are taken before a jury trial, which city courts are not authorized to hold. The proposed change in the state constitution would have allowed the General Assembly to set the fines limits for cities.