Eugene Thomas, the immediate past president of the American Bar Association and a Boise lawyer, has become the latest prominent Idahoan to speak out against the proposed state lottery ballot measure.
During a news conference, Thomas agreed with Attorney General Jim Jones' statement last week that passage of the Nov. 8 ballot measure would open the door to high-stakes, casino-style gambling in the state.Jones said that if the amendment to the state constitution is approved by voters, the Legislature could then authorize casino gambling by charities.
However, Thomas took Jones' opinion one step further, saying passage of the measure would allow "professional, big-time gambling" immediately.
Lottery proponents and lawmakers involved in drafting the amendment quickly countered Thomas' opinion, saying neither the intent nor the language in the amendment would allow such gambling.
They said it would allow a state-run lottery and that charitable games of chance would be allowed only if specifically authorized by the state Legislature.
Larry La Rocco, chairman of Idahoans for the Lottery, said Thomas and Jones were attempting to link pro-lottery advocates with casino gambling and termed that effort "unseemly."
"Pro-lottery advocates are against casino gambling coming into this state in any form," La Rocco said.
Even if the Legislature would have to authorize other forms of gambling, Thomas said lawmakers can't be trusted to stand up to pressure from gambling interests.
"It is not a Legislature we should rely upon to keep gambling out of Idaho," Thomas said, adding that more than 8,000 non-profit organizations could operate full-scale gambling if the amendment passes.
"They (Legislature) didn't just stumble. This was carefully considered," Thomas said. "I think they meant what they said and said what they meant, and that's to bring casino gambling into the state of Idaho under the guise of charity."
Sixty percent of the state's voters endorsed a November 1986 initiative to create a state lottery. But opponents of the initiative won a district court ruling last year that said the initiative process used to create a lottery is unconstitutional.
The state's appeal of that ruling was rejected by the Idaho Supreme Court this year. Gov. Cecil Andrus signed a bill in March that would implement a lottery if voters approve the amendment.