House ready to gamble on state lottery

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Two bills that would authorize a state lottery are headed to the Mississippi Senate.

Democratic lawmakers tacked on amendments to create a state lottery program to two separate bills — one to create a committee to study revenue potential from fantasy sports and another to revise compensation for charitable bingo supervisors.

Several lawmakers who spoke in favor of a state lottery said Mississippians often travel to neighboring states to play the lottery, costing the state’s coffers as much as $100 million per year in possible revenue.

Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston

“It’s here,” said Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, who sponsored one of the amendments. “And if our people are going to have some of the costs, we should have some of the benefits.”

After accepting Reynolds’ amendment, the fantasy-contest bill passed 84 to 35. Subsequently, Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, who has filed bills in the past calling for the creation of a lottery to support public education, offered her own lottery amendment to a different bill.

Mississippi voters approved establishing a lottery in 1992 through a statewide referendum, but lawmakers never passed the required enacting legislation for the law to take effect. The state Senate would need to sign off on the House’s changes to the bills and Gov. Phil Bryant would need to sign it before it becomes law.

A spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves declined to comment until after Reeves has seen the amended House bill.

Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, authored the fantasy gaming bill to which the House added the lottery amendment on Tuesday.

Earlier this session, Tindell also sponsored a bill that would create a lottery. That bill died in committee in January.

After the session Tuesday, Tindell said he had heard about the House lottery amendment and would be open to discussing it.

“I’m absolutely not opposed to a state lottery, and I’m definitely open to discussing it in conference, as long as the fantasy sports portion stays intact,” Tindell said.

In other notable House action:

-Members voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood from the state Medicaid program. <link to earlier story http://mississippitoday.org/2016/03/29/state-to-ban-reimbursements-to-planned-parenthood/>

-Legislation that was hotly debated a few weeks ago to combine the state’s Medicaid program with the departments of Human Services and Rehabilitation Services was amended to remove the Rehabilitation agency and study the possible combination of Medicaid and Human Services.

-A bill to make a single documented instance of domestic violence a grounds to seek a divorce passed overwhelmingly.

Contributing: Adam Ganucheau