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Mississippi lawmakers approve bill to create a state lottery

The Mississippi House reversed itself Tuesday and passed a bill to create a state lottery in the Bible Belt state where churches have long opposed it.

The vote came during a special session, less than 24 hours after the House originally voted to kill the bill that the state’s Republican governor promises to sign into law. There was no debate Tuesday as a few representatives changed their votes from no to yes.

Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, and Gov. Phil Bryant had been pushing lawmakers for more than a year to create one. Supporters estimate a lottery could generate tens of millions of dollars annually, and Bryant says he wants the money to help pay for repair to crumbling highways and bridges.

“This is a historic day in Mississippi,” Bryant said on Twitter. “Mississippi lawmakers rose to the occasion.”

Supporters said it would take about a year to get a lottery up and running.

The bill was opposed by politically powerful Baptist and Pentecostal groups and some people who called it a regressive tax on poor people in one of the poorest states in the U.S. The state’s influential casino lobby did not oppose a lottery but fought some lawmakers’ ultimately unsuccessful efforts to allow video lottery terminals in places like truck stops.

Bryant pointed out that three of the four states bordering Mississippi have a lottery, and Mississippi residents drive to Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee to buy millions of dollars of tickets each year.

The lottery bill passed the Senate Monday night but it failed initially in the House with 60 opposed and 54 in favor. The House subsequently passed the bill Tuesday with 58 in favor and 54 opposed.

Tuesday was the fourth day of a special session that Bryant called, asking lawmakers to put millions more dollars into highways and bridges. More than 400 of Mississippi’s city and county bridges are closed because they are in bad repair. The state Department of Transportation says it needs at least $400 million more per year just to keep state highways from deteriorating.

Supporters of a lottery estimate it could generate about $40 million for the state in the first year and $80 million in subsequent years.

The Senate and House last week passed different versions of a lottery bill, and top lawmakers spent much of Monday working out the differences. The two chambers must agree on a single version before it can go to the governor.

Republican Rep. Bill Denny said Tuesday that he has opposed attempts to establish a lottery for more than two decades, but he voted in favor this time because his constituents in Jackson want it.

“Every time I go to the grocery store, ‘Bill, we need the lottery,'” Denny said.

Democratic Rep. Greg Holloway of Hazlehurst voted against the bill initially and then for it Tuesday.

“My people have contacted me,” Holloway said. “They want the lottery and I want them to have what they want.”

Democratic Rep. Jeramey Anderson of Escatawpa voted for the bill Monday and against it Tuesday. He said he wanted a guarantee that a significant share of lottery money would go to education.

“Killing the bill would have given us a better opportunity to negotiate,” said Anderson, who is running for a U.S. House seat. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I do support the lottery, but I support public education, as well.”

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