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Local legislators mixed on idea of statewide lottery

The members of Warren County’s legislative delegation have mixed opinions about a state lottery, with two members saying want to wait and see what’s presented to the Legislature before making a decision,
During his Jan. 17 State of the State speech, Gov. Phil Bryant told lawmakers it might be time for Mississippi to create a lottery as a way to generate revenue without raising taxes.
Bryant has been elected with the support of conservative religious groups that oppose games of chance, but he said recently that he would be open to discussion about the issue.
“I feel like that will be a great way we can get some new money to this system that we need with all these cuts the (House) leadership has got,” State Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, said.
Denton, however, said he had a caveat for the money — that the revenue from the lottery be used for education and transportation: roads and bridges.
He believes most of the Democrats in the House favor a lotter, “And I have spoken to some folks on the other side of the aisle, too (Republicans); they seem to think that will be a great opportunity for some new money.
“With governor coming out that he’s for it, maybe we can get it on out. I’m hoping it will. I haven’t heard the lieutenant governor say one way or the other, and he rules the Senate. Hopefully they can work it on out, because the people have already spoken many, many years ago. I don’t know what we’ve been waiting on all these years.”
State Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, and Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, are more cautious.
“I think the governor said he was open to looking at a lottery,” Hopson said, adding he was not against a lottery, “But I think we need to do a very detailed analysis of what kind of revenue we expect to bring in from a lottery and to see how it would impact our current revenues, including the casinos. It could be moving one source of revenue to another source.
“I would hope we get some kind of economic analysis that would help us analyze those types of items before we’re called upon to vote on anything like that.”
Monsour said Mississippi is “losing a tremendous amount of revenue from a lottery in Louisiana and it would be something I would look at very closely for Mississippi.”
But while he is not opposed to looking at a lottery for Mississippi, Monsour said, he wants see what kind of bill would be presented.
“You can say you’re for something, and then it’s something crazy,” he said. “In my opinion, the money that comes from the lottery would have to be specific to where it would go. I wouldn’t want it to go into the general fund. I would want it to go to something specific. That way, we could solve an issue and also have additional money to spend elsewhere, if it were earmarked.
“Before I would approve it, I have to look at the particulars on it and make sure the money it allocated the way I want it to be allocated.”
Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and several previous proposals have died. A bill for a lottery passed the House last year, but failed to make it to the Senate.
Bryant said Arkansas received $80 million from its lottery last budget year — some it from tickets bought by Mississippi residents.
“When we see traffic crowded on the Mississippi River bridge taking revenue to our neighboring state, it may be time to face a new reality,” Bryant said. “We can no longer contain the people’s desire for a lottery; we can only force them to travel.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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