Despite lawmakers’ long-lasting efforts to bring Mississippi residents a lottery and boost state budget with $80 million in annual revenue, Mississippi still remains one of the six states without a lottery. In a surprising vote Monday night, the House of Representatives rejected Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal for a state lottery.
Monday was the third day of the special legislative session and the Senate passed the lottery bill with 31 against 17 votes. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted down the proposal that would have created a state lottery with 54-60, although earlier that day, House and Senate leaders agreed on the legislation. Still, House members could decide to revive the bill on Tuesday, as it was held on a motion to reconsider. A surprise, however, or rather a shock, was expressed on both floors and by both parties after the vote.
In the bipartisan vote, Republicans had the majority in the House, so the Democratic votes would not have been necessary for the bill to pass. Overall, 36 Republicans and 18 Democrats voted for the proposal, while 34 Republicans and 25 Democrats rejected the bill.
Some lawmakers saw the reason for the shocking vote against the lottery legislation in some of its provisions. According to them, if passed into law, it would have relaxed the ban on lottery video terminals in the state after some Friday amendments. These terminals, some bill opponents believe, work similarly to slot machines, so when allowed in convenience stores and truck stops, they would practically transform these venues into small, low-budget casinos.
Even some proponents of a state lottery who had previously supported it now voted against it. The latest amendments were, once again, cited as reasons. In a previous version of the bill, any lottery revenue over $80 million would have gone to a pre-kindergarten program. Now the language has changed, commented Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, who initially pushed for the pre-kindergarten program.
Will Mississippi Finally Have a Lottery?
Lawmakers have estimated that the proposed bill would generate $40 million in shared revenue and taxes for the state during the first year of the lottery operation. Each consecutive year, the lottery would bring in to state coffers another $80 million, the most of which would be spent on road and bridge repairs.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who drafted the bill and supported it during the special session, puts the blame on the Democrats after the disappointing vote. House Democrats enabled Mississippi to continue losing $80 million to Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, he wrote on Twitter. He added that with the federal funding added, the rejection of the bill would mean a loss of around $160 million a year.
One of the biggest concerns with the bill, as currently written, was a fear that it would give too much authority to the lottery corporation. House Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, described the corporation as a “quasi-agency” and both opponents and proponents of the lottery expressed doubts that it would be a fair, responsible and ethically acceptable agency.
Although in its initial version, the bill would have exempted the lottery corporation from the state’s Public Records Act, the Open Meetings Act, and state procurement and bidding laws, several changes have been made. As a result, all these were finally imposed on the lottery corporation in the latest proposal. There is still hope for the bill, amended or not, to be passed this week during the special legislative session. Eventually, it is expected to be signed by the Governor considering he is one of the most vocal proponents of the Mississippi Lottery.