By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal
The special committee formed by House Speaker Philip Gunn to study whether Mississippi should have a lottery will get down to the nitty gritty in its next, and perhaps last, meeting.
The plan is for the next meeting to take place in October with a final report being compiled in November before the 2018 legislative session begins in January.
House Gaming Committee Chair Richard Bennett, R-Long, who chairs the special study committee, last week released a proposed meeting agenda for the next meeting, that includes:
- A study of “social and economic impacts of state lotteries” done by staff of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee.
- A study on the lottery by the staff of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government.
- A presentation by the Department of Revenue on taxation issues surrounding a lottery.
- Discussions by state Economist Darrin Webb on “potential impact of state lottery on state’s various revenue sources.”
- A presentation by the Department of Mental Health on problem gambling in the state.
- Discussions with the group that represents the convenience stores that most likely would sell the lottery tickets and with the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association.
- Testimony from religious groups, most likely the Mississippi Baptist Convention, Mississippi United Methodist Conference and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson.
“It could be an interesting meeting,” Bennett said.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention has been vocal in its opposition to the state enacting a lottery. The United Methodist’s Book of Resolutions states, “We deplore the establishment of lotteries and their use as a means of raising public revenues. The constant promotion and the wide advertising of lotteries have encouraged large numbers of persons to gamble for the first time.”
Earlier this summer, Kenny Digby, executive director of Christian Action Commission, which is part of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, said he believes a lottery would be a mistake for the state for moral, social and economic reasons. He said that some residents are traveling to surrounding states to purchase lottery tickets does not mean policymakers should make it easier for all Mississippians to participate.
He equated it to drug use saying just because people are using illegal drugs doesn’t mean the drugs should be accessible to more people.
Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery. Only one of the four states bordering Mississippi – Alabama – doesn’t have a lottery.
There has been growing momentum in the Mississippi Legislature to address the issue.
Study committee members say their intent is not to make a recommendation to the Legislature on whether the state should adopt a lottery, but instead provide information so members can make an informed decision if there is a vote on the issue.
Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, a member of the study group, who says he opposes the lottery, said, “I will be completely objective. I get paid to be objective (in gathering the facts) as an attorney. I will be objective on the lottery.”
The other Northeast Mississippi member of the group, Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, echoed similar comments.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who previously has opposed the lottery, now says it should be considered, at least in part, because of what he says is the large number of Mississippians driving to neighboring states to purchase lottery tickets.
“We can no longer contain the people’s desire for a lottery. We can only force them to travel,” he said earlier this year.
The issue of Mississippians buying lottery tickets out of state – costing the state money – presumably will be explored during the upcoming meeting of the study committee.
According to information compiled by the committee, 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, though, that is the type of information the study committee will be trying to determine in the coming months.
The two previous public meetings of the study committee have been relatively brief, lasting less than an hour each. In addition, members of the group traveled to Louisiana and Arkansas to view first-hand their lottery operations.