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Mississippi’s lottery could start by the end of 2019. Here’s where it stands now.

The first lottery tickets could be in gas stations across Mississippi before the end of the year and possibly as soon as October, according to members of the new Mississippi Lottery Corp.

While scratch-off tickets will be available first, national Powerball and Mega Millions will come not long after, said Sen. Phlip Moran, R-Kiln, who authored the lottery bill in the Mississippi Legislature.

Officials with those games — where winning numbers are drawn a couple of times a week— will see how Mississippi Lottery is functioning, he said, before allowing it to join the other 44 states where the games are played.

After years of voting down a lottery, the Mississippi Legislature approved it in special session in August 2018.

Now the new Mississippi Lottery Corp., whose members serve without pay and await confirmation in the state Senate, are getting to work.

Why so long?

“We’re a startup,” said Gerard Gibert of Ridgeland, one of the five members on the board that he said is getting a $400 million corporation up and running in less than a year.

The other members are Kimberly LaRosa of Pass Christian, Dr. Michael McGrevey of Decatur, Dr. Cassie Pennington of Indianola and Philip Chamblee of Madison.

The first meeting was in November 2018 and the next is tentatively set for Tuesday, March 5. The meetings are open to the public and will be advertised on the Department of Finance meeting notice site, he said.

In Wyoming, the last state to establish a lottery, it took 17 months from the time it was approved in March 2013 until the first Powerball tickets were sold in August 2014 . That state elected to have only the national lottery games and no scratch-off tickets.

The timeline

The new corporation doesn’t have a website or even any money yet. Those are on the “to do” list along with establishing the rules, policies and procedures for a lottery and vendors who will sell the tickets, the members said.

“We’re building the foundation that will serve for years,” McGrevey said.

The first step was to hire Balch & Bingham, a national law firm with offices in Jackson and Gulfport, as the corporate attorney.

Gibert said the next steps are:

Acquire insurance to cover the board and directors

Seek financing, likely with a bank in the state

Initiate a search for a president

Contract with one of the four national vendors that provide the lottery machines and set them up in service stations. “Arkansas has 1,350 locations,” he said. “You can imagine the process there.”

Establish the application process for service station owners to undergo a background check and post credit or bond. “Hopefully we’ll automate that,” he said.

Design a marketing campaign with billboards, a website and other media

“The point is we’re building a substantial organization, Gibert said.

Where the money goes

Sen. Moran said it will be nice not to have to drive to Louisiana to buy lottery tickets every time the jackpots soar.

When the two jackpots totaled over $1 billion last year, Mississippi lost out, he said,

“That week $15 million or so left the state forever,” he said. It wasn’t just the cost of lottery tickets Mississippi forfeited, he said. He and other Coast residents might make a day of driving to Slidell, he said, maybe stopping for groceries, filling up the gas tank and going out to eat.

“I would much rather spend that money on the Coast than go to Slidell,” he said.

Gibert said the Arkansas lottery already is on pace to produce $400 million of revenue this year. He thinks $200 million to $250 million is possible in Mississippi, with $120 million of taxes for the state. The first $80 million goes to infrastructure, he said, and the remainder to Mississippi schools.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.
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