Miss. House committee to consider lottery bill

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — State Rep. Alyce Clark said she’s tired of seeing Mississippi residents cross state lines to play lotteries in Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas, and she wants to keep that money at home.

Clarke, a Jackson Democrat, has filed a bill that would let Mississippi voters decide in November whether to create a state-sponsored game of chance to help pay for college scholarships.

“In my opinion, if we had a lottery, we wouldn’t have all the budget problems we have,” Clarke said.

She and some other lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale, have filed lottery bills for several years, but those have been ignored. Now, as Mississippi faces its worst budget crunch in more than 15 years, the lottery proposal is at least being considered as a way to create new revenue.

The House Gaming Committee is scheduled to debate Clarke’s bill Monday, said committee Chairman Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. It’s unclear how much support the idea has in the committee or in the full House and Senate.

Even if Clarke’s bill passes both chambers, it is unlikely to become law because Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said he opposes creating a state lottery. Overriding a governor’s veto would take two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate — and that would be a tough sell in a state where the largest church group, the Mississippi Baptist Convention, opposes lotteries.

Casinos have operated in Mississippi since 1992. Barbour said 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.

Barbour said he also believes it’s bad public policy for a government to actively promote games of chance.

“I can literally remember the mayor of Washington, D.C., doing radio advertisements urging people to buy lottery tickets,” Barbour said during a recent news conference. “And I am comfortable licensing gaming, but I don’t like the idea of the state actually being in the game.”

Barbour also said: “If you want to find the best tax on the poor that exists in America, it’s the lottery. And I’m not interested in taxing the poor in a lottery.”

Mayo responded: “I’ll admit, lottery gaming is a temptation for quick money. But there is always something that is a temptation.”

Mayo said he’ll vote for a lottery bill only if it specifies that money would go to college scholarships. He said he’d oppose one if the money would go to the general state budget.