Lottery bill passes House committee

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A House committee on Tuesday passed a completely reworked bill that would establish a state lottery.

The bill was initially filed as legislation that would require the Mississippi State Hospital to publish a list of psychiatrists and psychologists approved to perform mental health examinations.

Mississippi House of Representatives.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, filed a substitute for the bill that mentioned nothing of the mental health legislation. Instead, the 25-page bill would establish a state lottery administered by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

The bill, passed by the House Judiciary A Committee, will now head to the House floor for consideration. Baker could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mississippi is one of just six states in the nation without a lottery. State leaders have recently changed their tone on the prospects for bringing the game to the Magnolia State.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who said in 2016 he was “not for it,” in recent weeks has flipped his previous position on the lottery, citing the need for additional revenues without raising taxes.

Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Gov. Phil Bryant gives his State of the State address earlier this month.

“I am open to a general discussion regarding the implementation of a state lottery,” Bryant said in his State of the State address earlier this month. “When we see traffic crowded on the Mississippi River bridge taking revenue to our neighboring state, it may be time to face a new reality. We can no longer contain the people’s desire for a lottery, we can only force them to travel.”

About a dozen Mississippians have won lotteries in Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee in recent years. When Powerball numbers soar, Mississippians flock to border state gas stations to purchase tickets.

After 53 percent of Mississippi voters lifted the Constitutional ban on the game in 1992, the path was forged for the Legislature and governor to adopt a state lottery. But in the past 10 regular legislative sessions, all 42 bills that would have created a state lottery died in committee.

This session, eight bills that would establish a lottery were filed. By noon Tuesday none had passed committee review. Tuesday is the deadline for general bills to make it out of committee.

Bryant’s only stipulation on the issue is that any revenue generated from the lottery would not be earmarked for one specific line item in the state budget. Instead, the revenue would flow into the general fund. Other states, including the three neighboring states with the game, designate lottery revenues to public education funds.

But other officials have long held concerns over the game: negative political implications, fears that a lottery would pull revenue from a reliable casino gaming industry, and the influence of religious convictions, so often an issue in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood expressed interest in a lottery three times last year.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ spokeswoman, when asked about his stance on the issue in November, referred back to a statement Reeves made earlier that year in which he did not shoot down the idea, but said he wants to ensure the casino industry wouldn’t be affected.

“If one’s goal is to increase revenue to the state, the question that must be answered: Would any perceived increase in revenue from a lottery be offset by reductions in sales tax collections and gaming receipts?” Reeves said in August.