SENATE CHANGES COURSE, OKS HELP FOR GAMBLERS
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The Mississippi Senate reversed itself Monday and agreed to enter into a partnership with the state’s gaming industry to start a program to help people addicted to gambling.
The Senate refused to fund the program Sunday, but reversed itself Monday by a vote of 37-9. The House also approved the bill Monday by a vote of 94-28.
The bill, which also included the budget for the Gaming Commission, which regulates the state’s gambling industry, now goes to the governor for his signature. Besides setting aside $10.3 million for the Gaming Commission budget, the bill also provides $100,000 for the Mississippi Council on Compulsive Gambling.
That $100,000 would be combined with $100,000 each from the state’ 28 casinos and their vendors to create the Mississippi Council on Compulsive Gambling.
“This is an an attempt to do what we are supposed to be doing , which is what is best for the people of Mississippi,” said Sen. Dick Hall, R-Jackson, a supporter of the bill.
But opponents said the gambling industry easily could pay the entire cost of the program to help compulsive gamblers.
Sen. Travis Little, D-Corinth, said the bill is like “your churches joining up with the local saloons to start a drinking anonymous.”
If the state is going to pay for the program, it should fund the entire project instead of entering into the partnership with the casino industry, he said.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the casinos could fund the entire program through the coins they had in their cash drawers.
Despite the arguments of Little and Bryan, the Senate voted 34-13 to fund the program. Then Bryan raised a point of order, saying the bill did not pass because under the state Constitution it takes a two-thirds majority vote of the membership to provide a donation. It was one vote short of the two-thirds majority.
After about an hour’s delay, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who presides over the Senate, ruled that Bryan was correct. Supporters of the bill then asked for another vote where it received the two-thirds majority needed.
During the debate on the proposal Sunday, senators in favor of providing the money, and those opposed, told tragic stories of people whose lives were ruined by gambling.
The gambling industry came to Mississippi in 1992. Gambling is allowed along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. It is expected to place $112 million in the state coffers during the upcoming budget year.