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The social effects of video lottery should be studied by an independent group, a South Dakota lawmaker argues. (Wikipedia photo)

Lawmaker: South Dakota needs independent gambling info

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By Nora Hertel

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PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota lottery officials are proposing the state's first comprehensive study on gambling addiction in more than 15 years, but a legislator expressed suspicion that the review would be coming from an agency that stands to benefit by downplaying the harmful effects.

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, has been one of the more vocal opponents of a push to expand where and how South Dakota residents can gamble. Although he opposes those proposals, he told The Associated Press Tuesday that lawmakers should first learn more about the social and financial costs of addiction.

The last study on gambling in the state was done in 1998, said Norman Lingle, executive director of the South Dakota Lottery.

But with 9 cents of every lotto dollar going back into operations costs, letting the agency conduct the study would be like "the fox guarding the henhouse," Craig said. The Lottery and its governing Commission operate under the State Department of Revenue.

During a floor debate Monday over whether to expand the number of video lottery machines allowed in licensed establishments, Craig urged colleagues to consider an independent study instead.

"I don't see it as a study with any predetermined outcome." Craig said. "If it arrives at truthful outcomes then those can be used for future legislation."

That bill failed Monday, as did another in February to increase bet limits on the machines. Another proposal to increase the hotel tax in Deadwood to support marketing passed through the Legislature but was vetoed Tuesday by the governor. A bill to allow casinos will hotel bars to sell liquor around the clock failed in the Senate.

The Legislature did approve a measure that will allow voters to rule whether casinos in the state can add keno, craps and roulette to their offerings.

Opponents of gambling expansions often cite problems with addicts and their families. Supporters say gaming provides important state revenue.

Lingle said he supports a third-party review of the issue. Lingle said last year the Lottery Commission conducted a study on ways to sustain the video lottery industry and determined initiatives to address problems in the industry.

"Depending on the results of the study, I would hope that it would make the legislators more amenable to undertaking some of those initiatives," Lingle said in a phone interview.

Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, said he supports Craig's idea for a study. He said every video lottery machine has a help number posted on it.

The Family Heritage Alliance Action, a group that opposes gambling, released its own study last month using national information on gambling addiction rates. It found there are 18,000 gambling addicts in the state.

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