JACKSON — Legislators who want to create a Mississippi lottery said they were disappointed yesterday when the issue came up for discussion but the proposal stalled because no action was taken.
Only five of the 15 House Gaming Committee members attended the meeting — not enough for a quorum to vote. A bill filed by Democratic Rep. Alyce Clarke of Jackson would let voters decide in November whether to create a lottery to help pay for college scholarships.
If the committee does not vote by today’s deadline, the bill — and the issue — will die for this legislative session.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour opposes creating a lottery, as do influential groups such as the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
“I want you folks to know you’re swimming upstream in a hard current,” House Gaming Committee chairman Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, told the supporters of Clarke’s bill.
The committee members who attended Monday’s meeting decided to contact their absent colleagues to seek their opinions before deciding whether to attempt a committee vote before Tuesday’s deadline. It appeared unlikely they’d get the three-fifths support in committee or in the full House that they’d need to pass the bill.
Democratic Rep. Willie Bailey of Greenville supports the proposal. He said he believes legislators should not avoid discussing the issue just because the governor or others oppose it. Bailey also said he’s tired of groups claiming to hold the sole moral authority on issues such as gambling.
“I have just as much right to the kingdom of Heaven as anyone else,” Bailey said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not going there, just because I buy a lottery ticket.”
Casinos have operated legally in Mississippi since 1992. Three surrounding states — Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee — have lotteries.
Jackson resident Ferdinand McAfee attended Monday’s committee meeting and urged lawmakers to pass Clarke’s bill. He said revenue from lottery tickets could have helped the state avoid some of the 8.2 percent budget cuts Barbour has made this year. McAfee said a lottery could help the cash-strapped Delta, where some schools don’t have enough books.
“We have an opportunity to add some free money to the system, where people are going to Louisiana and Tennessee and buying lottery tickets, anyway,” McAfee said after the meeting.
Barbour said last month that a lottery would “cannibalize” the casinos, which employ tens of thousands of people and have invested billions of dollars in hotels, golf courses and other resort amenities. He said he also believes it’s bad public policy for a government to actively promote games of chance, and he said a lottery would be a “tax on the poor.”
The bill is House Bill 337.