Mississippi Lottery committee begins work of gathering information

JACKSON – Richard Bennett said the task of a newly formed lottery study committee he chairs is not to make a recommendation on whether Mississippi should enact a lottery, but “if it happens, we want it to be done right.”

The nine-member committee, formed by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, hosted its first public meeting Thursday. The meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, attracted a large crowd of lobbyists and others to the state Capitol.

In the coming months, Bennett, R-Long Beach, said committee members will visit neighboring Arkansas and Louisiana, which have lotteries, to gather information.

 

He said the panel, which includes five House members, will gather information on operational issues, social issues and economic issues.

“The intent of this group is not to make recommendations, but to gather facts,” said Bennett, who normally chairs the House Gaming Committee.

He said the goal is to provide information for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in early January.

During the past year 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 it.

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. Only five other states, including neighboring Alabama, do not have a lottery.

Bennett said the work of the study committee is important because “there is a lot more to it than people think. You don’t just jump out there ... and 12 months later have a lottery.

“We are not looking for any particular outcome. We will be as objective as possible.”

If Mississippi does adopt a lottery, decisions will have to be made on the types of games to offer, where the revenue would be directed and what entity would regulate the lottery.

One reason for the interest in the lottery in Mississippi is the state’s sluggish revenue collections in recent years. The governor has floated the idea of directing lottery revenue to an infrastructure program.

According to information compiled for Thursday’s meeting, in fiscal year 2016 after prizes and expenses were paid, the lottery generated:

  • $85.2 million for Arkansas.
  • $177.9 million for Louisiana.
  • $394 million for Tennessee.
 

It has been estimated that Mississippi’s revenue from a lottery would be comparable to that of Arkansas, although that is the type of information the study committee will be trying to determine in the coming months. Mississippi has a total state-support budget of about $6 billion.

David Pray, an analyst for the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, told the study group that lotteries began with merchants in Italy in the Middle Ages and spread.

Lotteries were popular in colonial America because there was no other method to raise revenue for public financing. In the 1860s, the Louisiana Lottery Company operated the only national lottery, but in the 1890s the U.S. Congress passed legislation to prohibit lotteries. That legislation eventually was repealed and New Hampshire was the first state in 1964 to enact a modern lottery.

Other states eventually followed New Hampshire.

In 1992, Mississippians voted to remove language from the state Constitition prohibiting lotteries, but the Legislature has never taken the next step to enact a lottery.

Opposition to a lottery stems from both religious and economic reasons. Some argue that people spending on the purchase of lottery tickets take money out of the economy that could be spent on other items.

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