South Dakotans woke up on this date 25 years ago to learn the state Supreme Court had declared video lottery unconstitutional and state government faced a sudden budget deficit of about $65 million.
Digest that with your omelet and coffee, folks. As a daily newspaper reporter back then, I can tell you Gov. Walt Miller and the Legislature appropriations members felt more than a little queasy at the news. It may not seem so today when people talk about billions and trillions, but in 1994, losing $65 million tore a big hole in the budget.
The whole thing started in the late 1980s when South Dakota voters decided to allow a state lottery. Proceeds after payouts and expenses would help fund government programs. The first lottery in the state involved scratch tickets. Pay a buck, get a ticket, scratch off the covered numbers or symbols and, if certain of the uncovered numbers matched, Hey, you're rich. Gov. George Mickelson promoted the lottery by purchasing the first scratch ticket in a ceremony on the south sidewalk of the Capitol building.
I used that first lottery as a teaching moment for our younger son, Andy. Andy was 8 or 9 at the time, and he had his eye on a tricked-out bicycle that sparkled from the display window of a downtown shop. The thing cost about three times what I once paid for a new water pump for the old Ford Pinto my brother wanted to give me. Andy didn't have that kind of money, and we thought he should buy his own bike.
Well, he was an inventive lad, our Andy, and he told me he'd give me a dollar if I'd buy him a lottery ticket. He had seen the commercials on television. Everybody played. Everybody won. Everybody smiled. Nancy and I talked it over, and we decided to go along, although she said more than once, "But what if he wins?'' That might have been the only time in our lives we were rooting against our kid.
As luck - and the odds, which aren't "ever in your favor,'' no matter what they say on "The Hunger Games'' - would have it, we bought a losing ticket, or non-winner in the happy talk of today's world. The kid was crushed. He tore the ticket apart, threw the pieces in the trash and muttered every time he saw a lottery commercial after that.
But the state was making some money, and in 1989, South Dakota "pioneered the first state video lottery in the nation,'' the Lottery site says. People could play poker and blackjack and something called keno on a video display terminal. Some won, some lost. Some lost a lot, and eventually lottery foes filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the whole thing. On June 22, 1994, the Supreme Court said, Yep, you're right. It's unconstitutional.
Legislators, who could imagine dollars draining from the state treasury, met in special session in July and proposed new language to make it clear video lottery was not merely constitutional but really most sincerely constitutional. They placed that on the November ballot for voter approval. They hoped the Supreme Court would let the games continue until the people voted.
Alas, in August the high court said, in effect, "pull the plug.'' The games fell silent. Governor Miller tried to make deep budget cuts, but a court said he lacked authority to do that without legislative agreement. Lawmakers met again in special session and approved the bulk of Miller's budget cuts.
Next thing South Dakota knew, it was November. A majority vote reinstated video lottery and the state resumed sharing in net machine income. When Bill Janklow took office for his third term the following January, he bumped the state's share of video lottery revenue from 37 percent to 50 percent. Janklow liked to say 50-50 was a pretty fair deal all around. Some of the controversy over the activity faded after that.
Oh, and our boy, Andy? He worked out a deal to pay for that new bicycle on the installment plan using his allowance and cash from odd jobs. Turned out to be a good lesson.