Higher education has been shortchanged about $15 million in gambling money that it was supposed to receive over the past 28 years, according to an audit released Monday.
According to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, the Louisiana State Racing Commission hasn’t been handing over the money it collects for higher education through fees charged on wagers at off-track betting facilities.
“It is a debt that’s owed to the Board of Regents,” said state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville. “The law is very clear in this situation.”
The Racing Commission, in its response to the audit, has argued that the state has had no mechanism for it to send funds to the Board of Regents, and it doesn’t owe the back payment.
“Not once in twenty-eight years has the Board of Regents sought to collect funds from the statute,” Racing Commission executive director Charles Gardiner II wrote in his objection to the audit’s findings. “And regrettably today, there is no mechanism in place, and no self-generated revenue to distribute.”
Gardiner didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Advocate for further comment.
The Division of Administration also appeared to put the blame on the Louisiana Legislature’s failure to set up the process for collecting and distributing the funds.
“The Division of Administration does not make appropriations,” division spokesman Greg Dupuis said in an email Monday. “The Legislature considered, but ultimately did not approve, the transfer of these funds.”
The Racing Commission claims that it paid money to the state’s general revenue fund, because there was no other mechanism in place.
But Harrison, who said he had been curious about gaming money for education and pushed for an audit, claims that the Racing Commission, Board of Regents, Attorney General’s Office and Legislative Auditor’s Office will begin negotiations on the lost higher ed funding.
“They will work together to come up with a plan,” he said.
He said the Legislature will need to further address the issue next year to ensure that the money — about $500,000 a year — is paid out to colleges and universities.
“This will help sustain education in Louisiana,” said Richard Lipsey, vice chairman of the state Board of Regents. “It’s very important to our state and important to your children’s education.”
Harrison blamed the oversight on government bureaucracy. He said he doesn’t believe that legal action will be necessary, though.
“We’d prefer just to have the money sent to the Regents,” he said.