Two Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday that would scratch away an open records exemption of the Tennessee Lottery.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, would eliminate a portion of the lottery’s implementation law that currently blocks public access to individual lottery retailer sales information. The specific exemption excludes from public examination “any information concerning lottery sales made by lottery retailers unless otherwise provided by law.”
The bill is the result of the Bristol Herald Courier’s reporting about the exemption last December. In a package of stories about the Virginia and Tennessee lotteries, the paper looked at which retailers in Bristol sell the most tickets. While the paper was able to show the top-selling lottery retailers in Virginia, it was unable to do the same in Tennessee because of the exemption.
Lundberg and Crawford said the questions raised in the original story stuck with them.
“Frankly, the Bristol Herald Courier raised the issue and I think it’s a good one: Where is money being spent in the Tennessee Lottery?” Lundberg said.
Crawford said Tennessee citizens deserve access to such information.
“I think the big thing is so the public can see that there should be transparency in this,” he said.
A section of the submitted bill states that “transparency in the operation of the state lottery is essential to maintaining public confidence in the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation, lottery vendors, lottery retailers and lottery games.”
“I think it’s a piece of good government,” Lundberg said.
In response to a Herald Courier email about the legislation, Kym Gerlock, a lottery spokesperson, wrote: “The Tennessee Education Lottery operates under the auspices of the Lottery Implementation Act and if amendments are made, the lottery will continue to do so."
Lundberg and Crawford said they hope the exemption can be eliminated without passing the bill. The pair hopes to sit down in the coming weeks with Rebecca Hargrove, the lottery’s president and CEO, to hash out the policy change.
“Both [Crawford and I] would like to sit down with the director of the lottery to see if there’s something they can do without going through the process of passing legislation,” Lundberg said.
If talks with Hargrove do not result in elimination of the exemption, Lundberg said he will press forward with the legislation.
Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, lauded the introduced legislation.
“This would be a good change that will bring Tennessee in line with other states in terms of transparency of their lottery,” Fisher said. “When this issue came up, no one at the lottery could remember why the information was confidential to begin with — that’s a good sign that the exemption needed to be looked at.”
In December, Gerlock, the spokesperson, told the Herald Courier that no lottery official could explain why the exemption existed.
A spokeswoman for Georgia’s lottery, which has a similar exemption, explained in December that the Georgia exemption is a security measure to deter criminals from targeting top-selling retailers.
Lundberg said he sees no reason why retailer sales should be kept secret. Aside from the right of the public, he said he thinks it could spur a “good spirit of competition” among retailers.
“And frankly,” he said, “I’d like to know in our district: where are they being sold?”