Lottery, lawmakers square off over gas pump ticket sales

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new way for New Mexico Lottery players to buy tickets has a group of state lawmakers questioning whether the Lottery overstepped its authority.

Last week, the Lottery launched Play at the Pump, a pilot program that allows people buying gas to buy Powerball and Mega Millions tickets without going into the store.

The program is very limited right now with an announced 13 gas stations participating. Only debit cards can be used to purchase tickets, a purchaser’s age is verified, there are daily and weekly purchase limits and you have to buy gas to buy a ticket.

“Play at the Pump provided the opportunity for us to reach a consumer base that wasn’t actually going into the store,” said New Mexico Lottery spokesperson Wendy Ahlm in a phone interview. “We at the Lottery are looking at ways to generate more revenue for the legislative Lottery Scholarship.”

But on Monday, a group of lawmakers raised significant objections to the New Mexico Lottery launching the program. All 13 members of the House Ways and Means Committee sent Lottery CEO David Barden a stern letter questioning the move.

The issue centers around a section of state law dictating how Lottery tickets can be purchased.

The law currently on the books reads:

Tickets may be purchased only with cash or a check and shall not be purchased on credit.

“We don’t have anything in state statute that says debit cards can be used to purchase Lottery tickets,” said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, who chairs the committee that sent the letter. “In my mind, they are clearly breaking the law when they’re selling tickets at the pump with debit cards.”

There were attempts during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions to specifically add debit cards and credit cards to the law, but those bills never made it to the governor’s desk.

“Either they were misleading the legislature last year or the year before when they said they needed authority to move forward, or they’re now moving forward without that authority,” Harper said.

“To not have this hashed out at the legislature is concerning,” said Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, who signed on to the letter.

Harper is concerned issues like age verification and the effect gas pump sales will have on the state’s gaming compacts with tribes weren’t properly sorted out before the Lottery decided to move forward.

But the Lottery insists it has the authority to make debit card sales at the pump or otherwise.

“Using a debit card is simply an electronic check,” Ahlm said. “This is nothing new. Retailers have used debit cards in the past according to our sales director.”

Ahlm doesn’t believe the Lottery deceived lawmakers in any way when they asked to have debit cards specifically spelled out in statute.

“They were actually asking for clarification and for credit permission,” Ahlm said.

“There’s a reason why the legislature, when they originally put the lottery together, limited it to cash and checks and so if we’re going to expand from that, we need to have a discussion,” Harper said.

But Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, one of the architects that helped establish the New Mexico Lottery in 1996, tells KRQE News 13 he doesn’t recall debit cards coming up one way or the other during debate over the bill. Sanchez sides with the Lottery’s interpretation that debit cards are a form of electronic check and are okay under the current law.

Harper’s committee is asking the Lottery to respond to its concerns about Play at the Pump. Harper says depending on the response, lawmakers could either take the Lottery to court or pass legislation to better clarify what is allowed and what isn’t.

New Mexico isn’t the only state to implement gas pump sales of lottery tickets; California and North Carolina currently sell tickets this way.

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