OUR OPINION: Stop lottery talks before they begin

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s stuttering and struggling economy creates stress and even desperation, but it cannot be allowed to power serious discussion of a certain loser of an idea: a state-sponsored lottery.
Mississippi House gambling committee chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, has said he will hold fact-finding hearings on a state-sponsored lottery before the 2013 legislative session convenes in January.
His party’s highest leaders – Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn – all say they oppose a lottery in Mississippi. We hope Bennett listens to them and saves the state time and money, dropping his plans for hearings.
Plenty of evidence – independent and scientifically produced – shows that a lottery is the worst imaginable public policy initiative for a state like Mississippi.
Researchers Kent R. Grote and Victor A. Matheson, in a working paper produced in 2011 for the Department of Economics at the College of the Holy Cross, a respected institution, cite glaring drawbacks in public lotteries:
• Bodies of evidence tend to suggest “lotteries are a regressive form of taxation. Studies by Laitner (1999), Layton and Worthington (1999), and Coughlin and Garrett (2009) all find that individuals in government income assistance programs are more likely to participate in lottery markets. The observed effect of unemployment on ticket sales is mixed with Mikesell (1994) and Scott and Garen (1994) both finding that unemployment rates tend to have a positive impact on lottery ticket sales … One of the strongest criticisms of lotteries as a means of revenue collection is that they are highly regressive. Indeed, on this point there is universal agreement among economists.”
• The presence of lotteries may also affect other sectors, for example siphoning consumer spending away from more important goods and services “by up to 2.4 percent,” just what our state’s struggling retail and commercial community needs built into state policy.
The better role for state government lies in continuing expansion and innovation in stimulating economic development and the jobs rising from it. Steady, good employment, not an against-the-odds lottery, is the only sure way to sustain prosperity and help the currently unemployed and under-employed climb out of bad situations.