Time for a lottery has come in Mississippi

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

For years, Mississippians have been crossing the Mississippi River or the boarder of Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida to purchase tickets in the Powerball and Mega-Millions in hopes of “hitting it big” in the lottery.

That’s a fact.

Another fact is that millions of dollars have gone into government coffers of those states rather than Mississippi.

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According to state economist Darrin Webb, Mississippi residents spend an estimated $5 million to $10 million a year playing the lottery in Arkansas and about $30 million playing the lottery in Louisiana. 

Mississippi needs a lottery to reap those dollars that could be spent on roads, bridges, education or any number of other needs.

Mississippi is one of just six states without a lottery. But the likelihood of that changing is more possible this year with the state legislature expected to seriously take up the issue in this session.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves opposes creating one, but the Republican leader has acknowledged that many legislators would like to vote on the issue.

“I do not believe it is the huge revenue increase that some have said it would be,” Reeves told reporters before the session began last week. “Because I think what you would see is some folks that are spending 100 percent of their disposable income … rather than just going to the grocery store and buying a Coke or buying a pack of Nabs, they would instead go and buy lottery tickets.”

He may be right. But I remember many saying the same thing about the prospects of casino gambling before it finally arrived in Mississippi in the early 1990s. I think, for the most part, casino gambling has helped the Mississippi economy rather than been a detriment.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton, who’s a leader in his Baptist church, opposes the lottery. After the 2017 legislative session ended, though, Gunn created a group that spent months studying the issue. Members gathered information about how much money other states have made from their lotteries, but made no recommendations for or against creating a lottery in Mississippi.

One person who has served on that committee is Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs. Like his other committee members, he has not taken a position on whether Mississippi should adopt a lottery.

But, he said if one is created, legislators should not put the lottery revenue into the general state budget.

Rather, he said the money should be used to build up the state’s rainy day fund, which provides a financial cushion in case of shortfalls in tax collections.

“You could collect it a year before you spent out of it. And it’s a safeguard — a conservative safeguard,” Flaggs said in November.

I agree with him.

According to study group, after prizes were awarded and expenses were paid, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee collected a combined $658.1 million in revenue.

Even if Mississippi doesn’t collect the $80 million to $100 million some experts predict, it is still money that is staying in our state rather than crossing the river or border.

Critics argue the lottery is a tax on people who can least afford to pay, but even if it is, they’re already paying it — just not in Mississippi.

We need a lottery.

Rob Sigler is editor of The Vicksburg Post. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.