Gov. Bryant: Lottery not on special session agenda

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, foreground, looks into the House chamber gallery after delivering his 2017 State of the State address. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is in the background.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who has publicly lobbied for the consideration of a state lottery, said the game will not make the agenda for next month’s special session of the Legislature.

Bryant, in an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, ended weeks of speculation about whether the lottery would be included in his special session call.

The purpose of the special session, which will begin June 5, is to fund three state agencies that did not receive funding after a spat between legislative leaders late in the session. The three appropriations bills – for the Attorney General, the Department of Transportation and State Aid Roads – will be addressed during the special session.

“I’m not going to move forward with something the (House) speaker is not necessarily for, and that could face some conflict in the Senate,” Bryant said about the lottery in the newspaper.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Baptist deacon, vehemently opposes the lottery. Earlier this month, he commissioned a panel of lawmakers and state gaming officials to study the benefits or pitfalls of adopting the game.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has not taken a definitive stance on the issue, but he has said he would need to ensure a lottery would not pull from the millions that casino gaming establishments in the state generate each year.

Last fiscal year, the multi-billion dollar casino industry in Mississippi brought the state $133.8 million in revenue.

Bryant, who spoke ill of a state lottery for years, shifted his philosophy completely in late 2016 and first announced support of a lottery in his executive budget recommendation. Bryant even asked the Department of Revenue to estimate how much revenue the state could collect per year.

The findings, though unscientific: between $88 million and $100 million per year.

The governor’s only stipulation, however, 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.

“The future of our schoolchildren should not (be) left to a game of chance,” Bryant wrote in the budget recommendation.

Casino lobbyists have remained mum on the issue, although several veteran lawmakers who are close to casino industry representatives have introduced legislation the past two years which would clear the way for the game.

When Bryant first floated the idea for a lottery, several religious groups pushed back.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention, which represents the largest Christian denomination in the state, is “inalterably opposed” to gambling in any form, spokesman William Perkins told Mississippi Today last year.

“The convention is inalterably opposed to gambling in any form because it dehumanizes, it splits marriages, destroys families and in general makes the state spiritually poorer,” Perkins said. “It’s regrettable that the state’s leaders have not learned any lessons from the legalization of alcohol, which was supposed to save the state financially. We were promised an endless stream of revenue from liquor sales, yet we seem to always face budget problems every year, all these years later.”