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Warning about ‘warnings’: Florida Lottery fears grave losses from warning label bill

But the Legislature’s top economist said, “I don’t think it’s as dire for you guys…”

Officials from the Florida Lottery painted a near-apocalyptic picture of revenue loss — eventually as much as $300 million yearly, according to one estimate — if a bill mandating new warnings on lottery tickets becomes law.

They appeared at a Wednesday meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, a working group of economic forecasters from the Legislature, Governor’s Office and elsewhere in government whose prognostications are used by lawmakers to write the state’s yearly spending plan.

The measure at issue (HB 629), passed during the 2019 Legislative Session, “amends current law by directing the Florida Lottery to contractually require vendors to place one of the following warnings prominently on the front of all lottery tickets: ‘WARNING: LOTTERY GAMES MAY BE ADDICTIVE’ or ‘PLAY RESPONSIBLY,’ ” according to a staff analysis.

Lottery officials predict a parade of horribles because of the warnings, including a massive loss of revenue.

In Florida, lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education, including Bright Futures scholarships. “The Florida Lottery has contributed more than $1 billion to education for each of the past 16 years,” its website says. That’s after roughly $6 billion a year in sales.

The Legislature hasn’t yet sent the bill, which would go into effect July 1, to Gov. Ron DeSantis. He has 15 days to consider it once he receives it; after that, a bill becomes law without his action. DeSantis hasn’t discussed the bill publicly, and a question to the Lottery is pending on whether Secretary Jim Poppell has asked him to veto it.

Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 vetoed a bill that similarly called for warning language. That legislation called for multiple short warnings on tickets.

But Lottery officials who appeared Wednesday, including Accounting Director Gina Ballard, said owners of trademarked scratch-off games like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Monopoly” don’t want the warnings, and may not allow those games to be sold in Florida if the bill is signed.

Moreover, big “corporate retailers” also oppose the idea of having “to put big signs in their windows” with warnings, and the organizations behind “multi-state lottery products” such as Powerball may pull out of Florida, they warned.

The bill requires the Lottery to “include one of the specified warnings in all advertisements or promotions of lottery games, including those on television, the Internet, print, and the radio,” the analysis says. “Each warning message must appear on an equal number of advertisements, promotions, and tickets.”

But chief legislative economist Amy Baker pushed back, mentioning that cigarettes still sell even with warning labels. She also noted that “play responsibly” is already on the back of scratch-off tickets and in promotional material.

“I’m not saying it’s ideal for you all,” Baker said to Lottery officials, “but I don’t think it’s as dire for you guys” either. She added that she wasn’t “persuaded” by the Lottery’s loss estimates, says they were “indeterminate” at best.

And it could have been worse. A previous version of this year’s bill would have required tickets to say, “WARNING: PLAYING A LOTTERY GAME CONSTITUTES GAMBLING AND MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION AND/OR COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR. THE CHANCES OF WINNING A BIG PRIZE ARE VERY LOW.”

“Nobody like their business to be branded in a negative way, I get that,” said José Diez-Arguelles, representing the Florida Senate. But he added he wasn’t convinced retailers and game-makers would pull out of the Florida sales market as readily as the Lottery thinks they will.

Ultimately, the conference decided to postpone final consideration of the bill effect’s on state revenue to another meeting next week.

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Southwest Florida correspondent Jacob Ogles contributed to this post.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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