The House of Representatives rejected Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to enact a state lottery on Monday night, stunning lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol and most who have followed the special session since last week.
The conference report, agreed to earlier in the day by House and Senate leaders, was defeated by a vote of 60-54. The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, meaning House members could revive the proposal on Tuesday.
The Senate, meanwhile, passed the same proposal Monday night with a 31-17 vote.
“This is one of those votes that you make depending on what your people want,” said a stunned Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, who handled the bill on the House floor. “Ethically or morally if you are against it, I think you need to vote against it.”
The proposal would create a quasi-government agency called the Mississippi Lottery Corp. that would be overseen by a five-member board of governor’s appointees. Those appointees would select a president of the corporation, subject to the governor’s veto, and they would hire a private company to oversee the implementation of the game.
Lawmakers said the proposal would generate $80 million per year in revenue – a majority of which would be earmarked for state road and bridge repairs. Leaders tweaked the conference report, sending any revenue in excess of $80 million to the Education Enhancement Fund. After 10 years, the lottery revenue would flow directly into the state’s General Fund.
Gov. Bryant, who drafted the bill and has put his weight behind it this special session, blamed Democrats on Twitter after the vote. Of the 60 representatives who voted no, 34 were Republicans.
“House Democrats voted to continue losing more than $80 million to Ark., Louisiana and Tenn., $10 million-$20 million of which could have gone to education,” Bryant tweeted. “With federal matching funds included, that could be a $160 million loss. Hope they can explain that to their communities.”
Over the weekend, Bryant publicly thanked Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for their work on the proposal.
The move sent shock waves through the Capitol Monday night. Seconds after the vote, legislators shared shocked looks. Staffers scrambled to determine what happened. Legislators and staff on the Senate floor buzzed as they checked their phones and saw the news breaking from the opposite chamber.
Most everyone at the Capitol immediately began asking the question: Why?
The bill had passed the House by a comfortable margin earlier in the special session, which began Thursday. And Monday, twice before the final vote, the House rejected efforts to send the bill back for additional negotiations with the Senate.
Gunn, R-Clinton, has for years spoken against implementing a state lottery, but he pledged not to block the issue on the House floor. By the same token, Gunn voted against the bill Monday night and did not appear to use his influence to convince members of his Republican conference, which holds a three-fifths supermajority, to vote for the proposal.
Many House and Senate members publicly stated the bill as written gave too much power to the lottery corporation. Some lamented the game’s negative effect on the poor. Others said they hadn’t been given enough time to read and understand the bill.
When asked about the vote against the lottery, House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, who is against the lottery but assumed it would pass, said: “I don’t know what happened. In all honestly, some people did not like the Mississippi Lottery Corporation.”
The bill changed several times from its original version, which Bryant’s staff drafted. Bryant’s first iteration would have exempted the lottery corporation from the state’s Public Records Act, the Open Meetings Act, and state procurement and bidding laws. The final version passed by the Legislature imposes all three of those transparency laws on the lottery corporation.
Skeptics of the original bill thought the governor’s original bill was ambiguous enough to allow for video and online lottery games, which are slot-like machines that could have been allowed statewide. The final version passed Monday included stricter language that clearly banned those games.
Rep. Cheikh Taylor, D-Starkville, said he supported a lottery but believes its revenue should be directed to education.
Others, like Rep. Kevin Horan, D-Grenada, voiced concern that the bill would make it more difficult to allow video lottery terminals – a form of slot machines – at truck stops throughout the state at a later date should the Legislature opt to consider that issue.
The bill was drafted and negotiated mostly behind closed doors – a point of contention raised by several lawmakers since Thursday.
On Monday, a small group of lawmakers from the House and Senate met privately to hammer out details of the legislation – what Speaker Gunn labeled “finding common ground, perfectly acceptable, perfectly normal.”
“The three people who signed the conference report don’t know what’s in the bill,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “This is a slush fund for Phil Bryant.”
Opponents of the bill in both houses included a bipartisan group of lawmakers who generally voted “no” over moral or religious concerns. Several economic experts – including some who are traditionally friendly with Bryant, Reeves and Gunn – said the lottery will not create the financial boon that some have suggested.
“Regardless of the specific assumptions, a lottery will reduce the level of money currently spent in the Mississippi economy,” state economists wrote in a 2017 study conducted by the University Research Center. “Under our assumptions, the state loses 15 percent of the instant ticket sales and almost half of the multi-state ticket sales in the form of leakages to other states. For a Mississippi lottery to be economically beneficial, it would need to generate sufficient economic activity from the dollars remaining in the state to exceed these leakages. We believe this is unlikely…”
The bill’s prospects remain in question. If the House lets the proposal die on Tuesday, Bryant could expand the special session agenda to again include the lottery proposal. If the House voted to revive the proposal on Tuesday and pass it, Bryant would be expected to sign the bill into law and the lottery would be created.
The governor was already expected to expand the special session on Tuesday to allow legislators to consider how to divvy up funds the state will receive as a result of a settlement with BP after the 2010 oil spill. The state is slated to receive $750 million over multiple years from BP, which was responsible for the oil spill.
The Senate will return to the Capitol at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, while the House will reconvene at 12:30 p.m.