/Legislature could bet on a lottery

Legislature could bet on a lottery

Pete Blakeney, a resident of Laurel, felt compelled to purchase lottery tickets at a Louisiana gas station while driving back from New Orleans in January 2015. Blakeney, a Christian man who does not play the game very often, stated that he credits God for his spontaneous stop at the gas station across the Mississippi border. He checked his tickets after the Powerball numbers were drawn 2 days later. He had won $1million. Blakeney might have more opportunities to gamble close to home, thanks to a recent shift in tone by state leaders regarding prospects for a Mississippi Lottery. Mississippians cannot play the game because Mississippi is one of six remaining states in the country that has no variation of the game. In recent years, about a dozen Mississippians won lottery prizes in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. Mississippians travel to the border state gas stations to buy tickets when Powerball numbers rise. The path to a state lottery was opened after 53 percent of Mississippi voters lifted 1992’s Constitutional ban. All 42 bills which would have created a state lotteries were defeated in committee during the 10 regular legislative sessions. The Governor reversed the earlier year’s stance. Gov. Phil Bryant wrote last week in his Executive Budget Recommendation, that he was open to “a general discussion about Mississippi’s implementation of a lottery.” Bryant only stipulated that revenue from the lottery would be used for no specific line item in the state budget. Instead, the revenue will flow into the general fund. Other states, such as the three adjacent states that have the game, also designate lottery revenue to public education funds. Bryant last week wrote that “The future of our schoolchildren shouldn’t (be) left in the hands of a game of chance.” Many state leaders are open to the possibility of a new revenue stream, even though revenue collections have been declining in recent months. Other officials are concerned about the game’s potential negative political consequences, the possibility of a lottery taking revenue from the reliable casino gaming industry, as well as the impact of religious convictions which is often a problem in the Bible Belt. Bryant and other key legislators are now changing their tune. Bryant, who earlier this year said he wasn’t for the lottery, is now open to considering it. Three times this year, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood expressed interest in a lottery. Lt. Gov. When Tate Reeves was asked about his position on the issue, the spokeswoman for Tate Reeves referred to a statement Reeves had made earlier in the year. While he didn’t reject the idea, she said that he wanted to make sure the casino industry is not affected. “If one’s goal it to increase revenue to state, then the question that must answered is: Would any perceived increase of revenue from a lotto be offset by reductions sales tax collections or gaming receipts?” Reeves stated back in August. Bryant asked the Department of Revenue for an estimate of the revenue that the state could bring in each year as part of his budget proposal. The department examined Arkansas, which has a similar population and income level to Bryant’s proposal. Arkansas earned $72.6 million last fiscal year from the game. Bryant’s proposal was estimated by the Revenue department to bring in between $88 million-100 million per year. The issue has been largely ignored by the casino industry which brought in $2.1 billion to Mississippi in fiscal 2015. Allen Godfrey, Executive Director of Mississippi Gaming Commission, said that he was not opposed to the game being adopted. However, further research would be needed to determine how much revenue the state would generate and how it would operate. Recent months have seen some support from lawmakers close to the casino industry. Senator Tommy Gollott (R-Biloxi), who was one of the key players in bringing in casino gaming in Mississippi in the late 1980s/early 1990s, sponsored this session a bill that would create a state lottery in Mississippi to complement the Mississippi Adequate Education program and maintain roads and bridges. Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) is the chairman of House Gaming committee. He has close ties with casino lobbyists. He introduced a bill this session that would allow multi-state lottery game to be played in existing gaming establishments. Bennett did not respond to calls from Mississippi Today this past week and stated that he would like additional cost-benefit analysis. Senator Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall), who is also chairman of the Senate Finance committee did not return calls. The issue is controversial for many religious people in the state. Blakeney stated that he is open to the idea of the lottery, “as long you can afford it” and don’t take food from the family’s tables. Maureen Smith, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Catholic Diocese said this week that the diocese would not endorse or oppose the lottery. William Perkins, spokesperson for the Mississippi Baptist Convention said this week that the largest Christian denomination in the state is “inalterably opposed to” gambling in any form. Perkins stated that the convention was opposed to any gambling form as it “dehumanizes, splits marriages, destroys family and generally makes the state more spiritually poorer.” It is regrettable that state leaders haven’t learned from legalizing alcohol, which was supposed save the state financially. We were promised an inexhaustible stream of revenue from alcohol sales, but we continue to face budget problems every single year, even though we have been doing so for many years.” Some lawmakers are strong believers in the idea. Rep. Vince Mangold (R-Brookhaven) said, “I would be against the lottery every single time.” “I don’t believe it is right for my religious and moral beliefs. It is impossible.” House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) opposes it out of principle. Gunn stated in a statement that he did not support a state lottery and the issue being brought back to the House for a vote. Gunn stated that he has not seen any data showing that a lottery would generate additional income for the state. It is not known if Mississippi would see any financial benefits from the lottery. However, a number of Republican and Democrat state officials expressed an interest in bringing this game to Mississippi. Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston) successfully introduced an amendment to a separate bill which would have established a state lotteries. That amendment was approved by the House. It was supported by 38 Republicans and 43 Democrats, and 34 Republicans and three Democrats opposed. Although it was not up for final vote, it was the closest lottery bill to passing either house in recent times. Those who are not able to give up their religious, political, or economic reasons will raise concerns if the issue is brought up during the next legislative session. A lottery in this area is long overdue for those who have already spent money on the game in border state. Blakeney stated that we lose a lot revenue due to the large number of people who travel outside of the state to purchase tickets. “We already have casinos. We would have many people from Alabama moving to Mississippi if it had it. “I’m all in favor of it.” Make a regular donation to support this work today as we celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.