Senators voted to pass a special session proposal Thursday evening that would establish a state lottery, despite Senate leaders struggling to answer basic questions.
The vast majority of senators received a dense, 135-page bill from Gov. Phil Bryant’s office just hours before being asked to vote the bill through committee early Thursday afternoon. Several senators said they received the bill for the first time via email at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night.
Five minutes after voting to pass the lottery bill out committee on Thursday, at least six of the 14 committee members couldn’t define specifics of the proposal.
Even amid the confusion, the lottery proposal passed by a vote of 30-20.
Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, co-sponsored the bill and defended it on the Senate floor. Simmons struggled several times to answer basic questions from senators. Some of the questions from Senate colleagues that went unanswered:
• How will the lottery agency be created?
• Would the governor’s appointed board have to create a new corporation to oversee the lottery?
• Were other states’ lottery systems consulted in the drafting of the lottery proposal?
• Would the state of Mississippi be required to appropriate seed funding to set up the corporation?
• Does the lottery corporation have to be based inside the state of Mississippi?
Several times during the floor debate, Simmons referred members to the governor’s office for answers to specific questions.
“I am fully processing everything y’all are saying – that there are some legitimate concerns,” Simmons said at around the two-hour mark of floor debate. “None of us have had a lottery, and I’ve seen some cases when we create a situation that after we (pass the bill) and get it in place, let’s fix those things later. We can come back in January and fix it.”
The bill creates a quasi-government agency that would be overseen by a five-member board of governor’s appointees. Those appointees would appoint a president of the agency, subject to the governor’s veto, and they would hire a private company to oversee the implementation of the game.
The lottery agency and board would be completely exempt from state’s Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act – a point of contention raised during debate by several Democratic and Republican senators.
The legislation would allow for most variations of lottery to be played, including Powerball and scratch-off tickets. Video lottery games would not be permitted to operate in the state.
“I think we’re all thoroughly confused about this,” said Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, in reference to the basic structure of the agency.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said: “You got this bill at lunch today. They denied you 24 hours. You can’t go eat supper. You can’t leave tonight. We’re going to pass it today, and we refuse to wait 24 hours and we defeat all amendments. Is that why you ran for the Senate?”
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said: “There are holes wide enough that you could drive a Mack truck through this bill.”
“Who wrote this bill?” implored Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp. “Have you ever heard that a camel is a committee’s attempt to build a horse?”
“I want it to be as good as we can get it,” said Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg. “I don’t want to have to answer questions about why didn’t you do this or that, and we don’t have any way to know those answers right now.”
“There’s no way on earth we can think through the lottery, the mechanics of it, even if your mind is made up that you want to have a lottery,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “There are a number of issues.”
The bill will now move to the House, which will take up the bill on Friday morning.