Mississippi Lottery Bill Awaiting Governor’s Signature

Mississippi Lottery Bill Awaiting Governor's Signature

Mississippi passed legislation Tuesday, Aug. 28, that will create a modern lottery for the first time in the state’s history. The Mississippi House of Representatives approved the measure 58-54 in a “do-over” vote after it was defeated in that same chamber only the day before by a vote of 54-60. The bill had previously passed the Senate on Monday, Aug. 27, by a vote of 31-17, and now the two legislative chambers must agree upon a single version before it goes to the desk of Governor Phil Bryant, who has already stated that he intends to sign it into law.

About the New MS Lottery

The provisions of Senate Bill 2001 (SB2001) call for the creation of a seven-person board to oversee the lottery. Five of these individuals will be appointed by the governor while the Mississippi commissioner of revenue and the treasurer will serve ex officio as non-voting members. The board will elect a chairperson from among its members, and it will also select a president of the Mississippi Lottery Corporation, subject to the approval of the governor.

This corporation is authorized to sell paper tickets, including instant win games, and it can participate in multi-jurisdictional drawings, like Powerball and Mega Millions. Plans had been floated to include video gaming terminals in retail locations as a part of the lottery, but these designs were shot down and were not included in the final language of the bill.

During the first decade of the lottery’s existence, the first $80 million of net revenue each year will be earmarked for spending on roads and bridges or to provide matching funds for federal infrastructure projects. Any sums above $80 million will be devoted to education. After 10 years have passed, up to $80 million annually will instead go to the State General Fund while amounts in excess of this threshold will continue to be used for educational purposes.

For more than a year, Governor Bryant has been pushing for legislation authorizing a lottery as a means of raising funding to improve the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Following the passage of SB 2001, he sent out a celebratory tweet:

“This is a historic day in Mississippi. Lawmakers rose to the occasion and passed the last part of a sustainable infrastructure funding mechanism that will also provide additional money for public education.”

Legislative History

There has long been concern with the unenviable condition of Mississippi’s physical infrastructure. For example, more than 400 bridges across the state are closed because of structural defects. Earlier in August, the governor took the bold step of calling for an Extraordinary Session of the legislature to deal with this issue. It convened Aug. 23 with the express agenda of passing infrastructure spending measures.

In the first couple of days of the session, both the House and Senate passed lottery bills, but there were differences between them that had to be ironed out in conference committees before a single bill was crafted. This is why it took until Aug. 27 and 28 before the two chambers finally passed the necessary legislation.

Curiously, Mississippi law permits lawmakers to change their votes on previously acted-upon legislation as long as such alterations do not affect the passage or defeat of a bill. The day after the 58-54 approval in the House on Aug. 28, several representatives adjusted their ayes and nays such that the final tally was recorded as 64-49.

Democratic Rep. Greg Holloway, for instance, who initially voted against establishing a state lottery, subsequently voted in favor of the bill the following day because he said his constituents wanted it. As he explains:

“My people have contacted me. They want the lottery and I want them to have what they want.”

Democratic Rep. Jeramey Anderson, on the other hand, voted for SB2001 on Monday but against it on Tuesday, stating that he wanted a clear guarantee that a substantial proportion of lottery funds would go to education. Killing the bill, he said, would have presented a better opportunity to negotiate a more acceptable deal in support of public education.

Mississippi Gambling Background

Mississippi has long been against gambling. However, in 1990, the law was changed to allow riverboat casinos, and a 1992 voter referendum removed a constitutional prohibition on lotteries. Despite the constitution being amended to pave the way for a lottery, there was heavy opposition to its actual creation from Pentecostal and Baptist groups in this heavily religious state. Anti-poverty watchdogs also castigated lotteries as a kind of tax on the poor. Consequently, no proposed lottery legislation was successful throughout the next 25 years. The lack of this form of gambling made Mississippi, along with Alabama, Utah, Hawaii, Alaska and Nevada, one of the six states without any official lottery.

The Magnolia State seems to now be trying to make up for lost time with the frenetic pace of its gambling expansion. In 2016, daily fantasy sports became legal while in 2017, more traditional sports betting was authorized. This latter form of activity was still barred by federal law, but the May 2018 Supreme Court Murphy decision changed that, and the first licensed Mississippi sportsbooks opened for business on Aug. 1.

The institution of a Mississippi lottery is by no means a shocking or groundbreaking development. It’s merely a rounding-out of the burgeoning gambling scene within the state.

Potential Impact of the Lottery

Observers forecast that it will take between six months and a year for the Mississippi lottery to begin selling tickets. Once it does, though, it will have a ready market in place. Residents of the state are already accustomed to purchasing tickets in neighboring Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. In the near future, they will be able to participate in Mississippi’s offerings and will therefore have no cause to travel outside state borders to buy lottery tickets.

Proponents of the lottery believe that it will pull in $40 million in its first year with revenues ramping up to eventually as much as $100 million annually. Commenting upon the exciting development, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Senator Philip Moran, stated:

“Millions of dollars have been leaving the state every year to never come back to buy ticket in another state and then we can utilize it right here in our great state.”