Lottery back in play in 2018 legislative session

The House took up the appropriation bill for the Mississippi Gaming Commission, and their funding may be trouble if a state lottery isn’t created.

The commission is set to receive just over $8 million in FY 2019, but if an amendment by Rep. Alyce Clarke is put into law, they won’t receive any of those funds. The amendment is short, but its intentions are clear.

“The funds appropriated to the gaming commission under the provision of this act shall not be expended until such time that the legislature enacts legislation establishing a state lottery for the purposes of funding K-12 education, state aid roads, and municipalities.”

Several lawmakers commented on the amendment by saying that Mississippi continues to lose out on funds that a lottery could provide when Mississippians buy lottery tickets in Tennessee, Louisiana or other surrounding states.

District 16 Rep. Stephen Holland said that the people across the state and the governing body do not see eye to eye on this issue, and that the lottery could support several entities in Mississippi such as the state crime lab, infrastructure and education.

“Let’s get serious for change, it’s one thing that the leadership doesn’t support it, but the leadership is not reflective of the state of Mississippi on this issue,” Holland said.

District 33 Rep. Thomas Reynolds brought up that the prohibition on a lottery in Mississippi was voted on and removed, and he says that now is the time to reap the benefits of a lottery.

“The money is there. The money is being spent in other states,” Reynolds said. “We could put $30-40 million on city streets this next year and fix these bridges that are being condemned.”

Chairman of the House Gaming Commission Casey Eure said that he supports the lottery and that he believes one will be enacted before the session ends, but this is not the right bill to make it happen. He concluded by saying that the gaming commission would not even oversee a lottery if one is enacted.

Similarly to Eure’s position, Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, responded to the amendment by saying that more thought needs to go into a lottery before adding it in to this bill.

“There are a lot of things that need to be worked out, and that’s not saying that they can’t, I just don’t know that this is the bill that it will come out of,” Godfrey said. “I understand that they want a lottery, and I would definitely not be opposed to it, but I think that there’s got to be some discussion that’s got to be statutory as to the actual logistics of how the lottery is going to be run like who’s going to oversee it. There’s a lot that has to happen in statute to create a lottery.”

Godfrey did go on to say that he supports a lottery because of its potential to aid the state, and it would simply be an addition to other gaming entities in Mississippi.

“We’ve got gaming, so it would be hypocritical to say that I don’t want the lottery. If people want the lottery, that’s okay with me. If it created $40-80 million and the money was put to good use, it’d be hard to argue that.”

The amendment and the bill passed through the House, but it still has an important step to take before put into action. The Senate and House must now meet to discuss the appropriation bill, but Clarke wants the amendment to send a message.

“Give us a chance to vote on it. I just want to make sure that when this goes over to the Senate, the Senate knows that we really want this, we need it!” Clarke exclaimed.

Several bills attempting to establish a lottery died earlier in the session.