Mississippi Lottery

A state lottery in Mississippi has moved one big step closer to becoming reality following the passing of a bill in the Magnolia State.

It was Tuesday, August 28th when the Mississippi Senate voted 58-54 in favor of creating a bill that would legalize lotteries in the state. This was straight after voting 60-54 against such a bill just 24 hours earlier on Monday 27th August!

It seems that lawmakers in Mississippi have finally realized that the amount of lottery cash hemorrhaging over into the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee (the three adjacent states that do allow lottery sales) is in the millions, and that this cash being spent by Mississippi residents should be spent in their own home state, where it could be used on what some observers call an abysmal road and bridge network, that has at least 400 unusable bridges and a Third World network of roads, instead of next door. The lottery money the state would receive from players who already buy Powerball and Mega Millions tickets could also be spent on education and other public services.

Even if you agree with the argument that lotteries are a tax on people who cannot afford to pay it, it has to be agreed that they are paying it now anyway - just not to the state they actually live in.

Mississippi Lottery Voting

The voting went like this:

  • On Thursday 23rd August an initial version of a lottery bill went before the state Senate, who voted 30-20 in favor of it.
  • Friday 24th saw The Mississippi House vote 71-43  to pass their own version of a lottery bill.
  • On Monday 27th August The House killed a new lottery measure with a bipartisan vote of 54-for/60-against.
  • In another bipartisan vote, the same measures were voted on again on Tuesday 28th, which now passed 58-54 with no debate.

This bill has now gone to the state governor and ends a three-year stand-off between the Senate GOP leaders and the House on the issue of finding monies to spending on road links and bridges, education and other services.

When will we see a lottery in Mississippi?

Given that Governor Phil Bryant and the rest of his team worked so hard in flipping the Monday vote from a no to the eventual yes vote on Tuesday afternoon, it is fair to expect him to pass the bill. This means that Mississippi may finally get its own lottery, possibly within a year.

Estimates have been put forward that up to $40 million could be netted in the first year of the lottery, with $80 million in the second year and $100 million in year three. These lottery proceeds have been earmarked for state roads and bridges to match federal funding for the next ten years. Further revenue over $80 million would then go to the Education Enhancement Fund.

The name of the lottery bill is the Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Act. This is in honor of Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, who for nearly 20 years has continually pushed for a bill of this kind. There was a referendum in 1992 in which a majority vote by Mississippi residents approved reversing a state ban on lotteries, but lawmakers would never go ahead with it. Clarke has now said  "I’m excited we finally did something the people have been asking us to do for years. Another thing is that the people have voted on it and when they voted, it passed overwhelmingly.”

So why doesn’t Mississippi have a lottery?

  • Religious opinion counts in the Bible Belt of America, so when church groups collectively apply their pressure against something they object to, such as gambling, then you have a problem.
  • The existing casinos in the state have been extremely successful with riverboat tourism for gamblers, and as such these casinos object strongly to the competition that lotteries would pit against them.
  • Lawmakers have been happy with the status quo because they cannot afford to upset either the religious groups in the state for fear of being voted out of office, or upsetting the casino industry for fear of having this lucrative industry withhold monies and support.

  • A brief history of lotteries in Mississippi...

    There are complex arguments at work when trying to understand the reasons for there being no lotteries allowed in Mississippi, but to understand why the state does not have a lottery while three of the four states that border Mississippi does (Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee), the following main points need to be considered:

    • Mississippi allowed lotteries in the 19th century in order to fund education.
    • Lotteries went out of fashion during the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening that swept through the country during the 19th century.
    • Lotteries made a comeback after the civil war as a vital source of funding for various projects.
    • In 1867 the legislature grants the “The Mississippi Agricultural and Manufacturing Aid Society” a 25-year contract to run lotteries in order to raise funds for rebuilding efforts and war debts after the civil war. This would have been done by paying the state fixed annual payments as well as a cut of the sale of lottery tickets.
    • In 1868 however, lotteries are outlawed and in 1874 John Stone and other members of the society are arrested for running an illegal lottery. In 1880 the US Supreme court rules in favour of the state, and lotteries remain banned.
    • The Mississippi constitution is rewritten in 1890 with the ban on lotteries being continued. This remains unchanged for a century.
    • In 1990 Ray Mabus attempts to have the constitution amended to allow lotteries to be operated in order to fund state schooling. His attempt ultimately fails.
    • In 1992 the constitutional repeal which Mabus had fought for was passed and it became legal for the state of Mississippi to pass a bill which would authorize a lottery.
    • When casinos were legalized in 1990 they soon became the states fastest growing industry, and in doing so became a powerful opponent to lotteries as well as an important contributor of funding to state coffers, which explains the delay in lotteries gaining enough attention and support to finally become legalized.
    • Opposition from churches, casinos and other opposition groups to lotteries has remained strong ever since, until this August, when a lottery bill went before the Senate.