You Might Soon Be Able to Play Powerball and Mega Millions In Mississippi

Thursday August 23rd 2018

Mississippi is one of only six states in the US that does not have a state lottery and does not sell tickets for multi-state games such as Powerball and Mega Millions. That could soon change, however, as lawmakers discuss the possibility of implementing a state lottery to help fund the building and development of infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Special Session Planned to Discuss New Lottery

A special session is due to take place this week at the request of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, during which lawmakers will discuss transportation in the state. One of the items on the agenda will be the plans to form a new state lottery to provide some much-needed funding for infrastructure projects.

Governor Bryant has outlined a plan in which a new lottery corporation would be formed and headed by government-appointed directors. Proceeds from the lottery would be diverted to cities and counties in Mississippi on the condition that the money is spent on the repair and construction of roads and bridges. The idea has already gained the blessing of Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, who said he wouldn’t block the proposals for a new lottery “if the votes are there.”

If an agreement is reached in the special session, Mississippi will move a step closer to having its own state lottery. If it comes to pass, Powerball and Mega Millions are likely to be the first lotteries on offer, as these are the two most lucrative and popular lotteries in the United States.

Update 29.08.18

On Tuesday 28th August, Mississippi lawmakers approved a bill to create a lottery in the state. The House originally voted against the bill 24 hours earlier, but passed it in a do-over vote during a special session on Tuesday night. After the vote, Governor Bryant put out a message on social media, saying: "This is a historic day in Mississippi. Lawmakers rose to the occasion."

House representatives initially voted 60 to 54 against the bill, but after some of those opposed to it changed their vote, it passed 58 to 54. Supporters say it could take up to a year to get the lottery operational. There's no word yet on what games might be offered, but Powerball and Mega Millions are likely candidates for inclusion.

Why Now?

Supporters of the new lottery have long insisted that Mississippi is losing out on millions of dollars as residents cross state lines to buy Powerball and Mega Millions tickets from Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, or any other neighbouring state that sells them. Opposition to a lottery comes from religious groups who argue that it would have a corruptive influence, and from casino operators who are concerned at the impact it would have on their industry.

Gambling is nothing new in Mississippi, having been around in some form since the pre-Columbian era. There are dozens of casinos situated throughout the state, and the city of Biloxi is famous for them. Despite its influence, however, the gaming industry does see room for a state lottery, under certain conditions. Larry Gregory, the director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, has previously said that casino operators are primarily opposed to the introduction of video gaming terminals, rather than the sale of tickets for draw games such as Powerball.

It is unclear whether opposition from religious groups will soften in the same way. The Mississippi Baptist Convention has been vocal in its criticism of the plans. William Perkins, the editor of the Baptist Record newspaper, said: “It’s pretty well documented that gambling, like alcohol, is not the best thing that can happen for Mississippi families. So, Mississippi Baptists are against gambling because it corrupts the soul.” Speaker Gunn, a leader of his Baptist church, previously stated that he objected to a new lottery, but has since elaborated to say his objections rest on economic grounds, rather than his religious faith. He said he will wait for the Senate to act on the lottery proposals.

Will Alabama Be Next to Offer a Lottery?

If a state lottery is formed in Mississippi, Alabama would be the only Southern state without one. The prospect has spurred officials to act, and discussions about an Alabamanian lottery have begun. A Senate committee approved a bill to amend the constitution to allow the sale of lottery tickets, but that is only the first step in a long process.

Prominent Republicans and Democrats are split on the issue. Governor Kay Ivey said this week that she would be open to holding a referendum to allow the public to vote on the matter, but insisted that lottery funding was not needed. “Our budgets are strong. We are able to do what we need to do. Alabama is at work, we are working and it's working,” she said.

On the other side of the debate, Democrat Walt Maddox, the Mayor of Tuscaloosa, was unequivocal in his support for setting up a state lottery. “We have to make a move,” he said. “The lottery is part of our platform since the very beginning and we believe that $300 million a year should be invested in pre-K programs and scholarships.” The issue of the lottery could be a key one when the pair face each other in November’s gubernatorial elections.

February’s bill stated that 75 percent of lottery proceeds would go to the General Fund, which pays for a range of state services, and the other 25 percent would go to education. Local House Representative Chris Blackshear said: “I think we're all in agreement no matter how we think we should get there, we need more money in the education budget and we need more money in the general fund budget. The quality of education those young folks get in the classroom today truly dictates how well our community is going to be taken care of going forward.”

What About the Other States?

In the other states that don’t have a lottery, the prospects of one being formed anytime soon are slim. Utah has some of the strictest gambling laws in the United States, and its criminal code states that gambling is a Class B misdemeanour, which is punishable with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 (or compensatory service of equivalent value - usually calculated at $10 per hour).

Gambling is also seen as a misdemeanour in Hawaii, but debate about introducing a state lottery has been ongoing for years. In January, State Representative John Mizuno said that introducing ticket sales for games such as Powerball and Mega Millions could help solve the state’s homelessness problem. According to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which is compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hawaii has some of the highest rates in the country, with 51 in every 10,000 people experiencing homelessness. Despite these issues, there is still strong opposition to the formation of a lottery from critics who say legalized gambling will only exacerbate the state’s social issues.

Nevada is the center for legalized gambling in the United States, with billions of dollars being wagered every year. As such, there is strong opposition to the introduction of a state lottery from the gaming industry. The state’s constitution prohibits the formation of lotteries, although an amendment was passed in 1990 to allow lotteries operated by charitable organizations. A bill to allow the introduction of a state lottery passed the Nevada State Assembly in 2009, but didn’t get past the State Senate.

In Alaska, the absence of a lottery stems from the fact that the state doesn’t need the money. Alaska is oil-rich, and even with falling production it is estimated that the oil and gas industry will continue to account for 90 percent of the state’s revenues. Each year, a portion of the industry’s revenue is paid into the constitutionally established Alaska Permanent Fund, which invests the money and pays out an annual dividend to every resident in the state. This year the dividend is worth $1,600.

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