For the second year in a row, Attorney General Jim Hood of Houston, viewed as the leading Democratic contender for governor in 2019, touted a lottery as an option to raise additional revenue for the state’s beleaguered general fund.

“I’m a Baptist. You know us Baptists don’t believe in gambling. We don’t believe in drinking or dancing, not in public anyway,” Hood quipped last week 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.”

Hood, Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat, also was the only officeholder who spoke at the fair to tout a lottery.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, facing questions from reporters after his speech, expressed the same reservations he has voiced before about enacting a lottery in Mississippi, but concluded, he was “willing to consider it.”

Mississippi is one of six states nationwide without a lottery, but momentum appears to be growing for enacting one here. Gov. Phil Bryant, once a staunch opponent of the lottery, has voiced support in recent months, even touting it in January in his state of the state speech.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, like Hood a Baptist, has repeatedly voiced opposition to the lottery. But responding to support for the lottery among House members, he agreed to form a task force to study the issue.

The task force met in June, and after that members traveled to neighboring states to observe their lottery operations. The task force has not scheduled its second meeting, yet. The panel is supposed to have a report ready for the 2018 Legislature.

Reeves, considered the leading Republican candidate for governor, has expressed concerns that a lottery might harm the state’s casino gambling industry that generates revenue not only from its games, but also from its hotels, restaurants and other entertainment options.

He also expressed concern that a lottery would not generate new revenue, but just shift money from other categories. Instead of spending money on retail items or at casinos, Mississippians might use their disposable income to purchase lottery tickets.

Hood estimates a lottery would generate between $80 million and $150 million annually in revenue for the state at a time when state tax collections continue to be sluggish.

Various groups, including researchers for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, are studying the impact of a lottery on the state.

According to information compiled for the House task force, 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.

Hood’s main argument in support of a lottery is that some additional source of revenue is needed to curtail ongoing budget reductions that he maintains are occurring because of tax cuts given primarily to out of state corporations.