A bill requiring any bid to privatize the state lottery be subject to approval of the state Legislature has approved today by a Senate panel. The measure has already passed the full Assembly.

Powerball jackpot at $550 million at Quick Chek in Lawrenceville (Dan Alexander, Townsquare Media NJ)

Since last year, Governor Chris Christie has been moving to privatize lottery services. Democrats have questioned the initiative every step along the way and they say the administration refuses to explain the plan to the public at Assembly Budget Committee hearings on the issue.

“The proposal to privatize without public explanation one of our most profitable and well-run assets is troubling,” says Vinnie Prieto, the Assembly budget chairman. “The Christie administration appears ready to forfeit substantial long-term revenue for a one-shot payment that will also hurt small business owners and risk vital programs for our students, veterans and the disabled. More oversight is clearly needed.”

The bill would require that a contract between the state and a private entity that provides for the operation of the state Lottery by the private entity must be subject to the approval of the members of the Senate and the General Assembly, by a majority vote of such members in the form of a concurrent resolution.

“Privatization should be reserved for when the government cannot perform that function well on its own,” says Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. “Yet in this case, it appears that the only one that stands to benefit from this proposal is the company chosen to take over this asset.”

New Jersey established a lottery in 1970 to be operated by the state, with the entire net proceeds dedicated to state institutions and state aid for education.  Under current law, the state Lottery Commission and the Division of State Lottery in the Department of the Treasury administer the lottery in accordance with its constitutional and statutory mission.