Momentum for a lottery appears to be growing in Mississippi

JACKSON – If legislation to enact a lottery passes during the upcoming 2018 session, it will do so without the backing of the Legislature’s two presiding officers – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves in the Senate and House Speaker Philip Gunn.

While momentum for a lottery appears to be growing, both Gunn and Reeves said recently they still oppose it, though, they stopped short of saying they would use their considerable influence in the legislative process to block it.

In response to emailed questions, Meghan Annison, a spokesman for Gunn, said, “The speaker does not support the lottery. He will not vote for the lottery and does not support a lottery bill originating in the House. We’ll see how the session develops. If the Senate introduces a bill, we will address the issue then.”

In the 2016 session, on two separate occasions on the floor of the House, members voted to amend bills to include a provision creating a lottery. Those amendments passed without the support of Gunn and were killed in the Senate.

Of the possibility of a lottery being enacted in 2018, Reeves said, “I personally am opposed to the lottery in Mississippi, and I do not see it being the windfall many others do. But I do believe a majority of senators would like to vote to enact a lottery.”

Whether that means a lottery can pass over the objections of Gunn and Reeves remains to be seen. A lot might depend on how much influence the two presiding officers exert to block passage.

Gunn, a staunch social conservative who is active in the Southern Baptist Church, did form a task force this year to study the lottery issue.

The task force, which hosted its final meeting in October, did not make a recommendation on whether the state should adopt a lottery, but provided statistics and information from other lottery states – particularly those contiguous to Mississippi. Only six states, including Mississippi, do not have a lottery.

The committee was told, based on a study by state economist Darrin Webb, that the lottery could eventually generate as much as $92 million annually in revenue, but could negatively impact other areas of the state economy such as sales tax collections. But overall, the lottery would be a net gain in revenue for the cash-strapped state coffers.

“I am going to vote for a lottery, but I do not think it is the panacea that many people believe it is,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “But at this point, we need all the revenue we can find.”

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who in the past has opposed the lottery, has said in recent years the issue should at least be considered by the Legislature. He says the fact Mississippi is losing revenue because of the large number of people traveling to neighboring states to purchase lottery tickets is a strong argument for enacting a lottery.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said a lottery should be enacted with the revenue directed to needed road and bridge maintenance and repairs.

“If we have a lottery, it needs to be for a specific program and transportation makes sense,” he said.