SENATE REJECTS GAMBLING PROGRAM

CATEGORY: Legislature

AUTHOR: BOBBY

SENATE REJECTS GAMBLING PROGRAM

Members of the Mississippi Senate said Sunday that the state’s gambling industry should pay for the problem it creates.

The Senate, meeting to vote on appropriations bills Sunday, rejected a proposal that would provide $100,000 from state-imposed fines for casinos for a program to help addicted gamblers. The casino industry and the vendors to the casino industry would provide an additional $200,000 for the program, which is the Mississippi Council on Compulsive Gambling.

But the program is in jeopardy.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, spoke in opposition to the plan, saying the casinos “were in a sorry business” and were attempting to gain respectability through the program. He and others said the casinos could afford to pay the entire cost of the program.

Sen. Bill Canon, R-Columbus, said the way the casinos were making money, “they could take a million dollars from each boat.”

The Senate, by a vote of 25-19, agreed with Bryan and Canon.

The program, though, did have its support Sen. Terry Burton, D-Newton, praised the bill, saying the money for the program is coming from the casino industry through the fines. Other senators said once the fines are collected, they are no longer casino money, but state money.

The debate on the issue got personal as two senators recounted stories of friends who were compulsive gamblers.

Sen. Dick Hall, R-Jackson, told of a college classmate who later in life developed a gambling addiction before the casino industry came to Mississippi in 1992. He said the state needs to appropriate money to help people with gambling addictions.

On the other hand, Sen. Delma Furniss, D-Rena Lara, told of a friend who had gone 32 years without drinking liquor after having an addiction as a young adult. But the gambling industry came to Mississippi, and his friend started visiting the casinos where he began to drink again and to gamble.

“On March 15, he quit drinking and quit gambling,” Furniss said. “He drove up in his front yard, took a 38 and pulled the trigger.” Before dying, the man borrowed money against his house that was paid for, his shop and his car. The man’s widow now must find a way to keep her home on her Social Security checks of $813 a month.

“If gambling caused the problem, it ought to pay its own way,” he said.

Gambling is allowed in the state along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. Gambling is expected to bring $112 million to the state’s coffers during the upcoming budget year.

The $100,000 was budgeted in the gaming commission appropriation bill. The gaming commission regulates the gambling industry.

With the Senate’s rejection, the bill must go back to conference committee where key senators and House members will try to work out the difference between the two chambers. The difference, of course, is the $100,000 for the gambling addiction program.

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