Politics & Government

Mississippi lottery committee has one more meeting before putting together its report

A lottery player displays Powerball lottery tickets at store in Tallapoosa, Georgia, in 2016. Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery.
A lottery player displays Powerball lottery tickets at store in Tallapoosa, Georgia, in 2016. Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery. AP File

What is expected to be the final meeting of House Speaker Philip Gunn’s lottery study committee is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Mississippi Capitol.

Gunn formed the study committee in April in response to efforts in the House to pass lottery legislation.

After the November meeting, the plan is for legislative staff to compile the information garnered by the nine-member committee into a report to be presented to the Mississippi House before the 2018 session starts in January. The study committee, as its chairman Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, had said from the beginning, will not take a position on whether the state should have a lottery.

Whether that report leads to Mississippi enacting a lottery remains to be seen.

“I believe it will come up (during the 2018 session) one way or another,” said Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, one of two Northeast Mississippians appointed to the study committee by the speaker. “I don’t know how far it will get. I am sure someone will introduce a bill.

“I think it is gaining some favor.”

Whether it has gained enough favor to pass the two chambers of the Legislature remains to be seen. Both Huddleston and Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, the other Northeast Mississippian on the study panel, say they still oppose the state enacting a lottery.

Bain conceded that a majority of Mississippians probably want to enact a lottery, but he said he remains convinced enacting a lottery is bad policy for the state for a number of reasons.

At the Nov. 16 meeting, the members are slated to hear from groups opposed to the lottery, as well as those who support it.

Members also are expected to hear more information on the potential economic impact of a lottery on Mississippi.

Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery. Many people contend that the state is losing a significant amount of money because Mississippians travel to neighboring states — Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana — to buy lottery tickets.

During trips to Louisiana and Arkansas to study their lottery operations, members of the study committee said they were told stores in those states near the border with Mississippi are some of their busiest.

During the past two years there has been growing momentum for Mississippi to enact a lottery. Gov. Phil Bryant, who once opposed the lottery, has “evolved” on the issue and has voiced support for a lottery — perhaps to help pay for transportation needs.

Attorney General Jim Hood, Mississippi’s lone statewide elected Democrat, seems poised to make enacting a lottery part of a possible gubernatorial campaign in 2019.

“I’m a Baptist. You know us Baptists don’t believe in gambling ... ,” Hood said during the summer to the Neshoba County Fair crowd at the annual political speakings. “But I have to be a realist. The Legislature is not passing any revenue (tax increase). That (lottery revenue) is money available for education — should be spent on education.”

In the 2016 session, the House approved amendments on bills on two separate occasions to enact a lottery. Those proposals died later in the process.

Speaker Gunn has expressed his opposition to the lottery and the Senate’s presiding officer Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also has been reluctant to voice support for a lottery, saying a lottery does not provide the jobs that casino gambling does.

Bain said the biggest surprise to him is learning through the study committee the costs of a lottery. He said Arkansas generates more than $400 million annually in ticket sales, but that results in only about $85 million in revenue for the state.

In the early 1990s, Mississippians voted to remove the prohibition on a lottery from the state Constitution. But the Legislature did not enact a lottery after that vote.

At the time, a majority of Northeast Mississippi counties opposed removing the constitutional prohibition.