JACKSON – Only one House member on the committee Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, formed to study the lottery, voted during the 2017 legislative session in favor of an amendment trying to enact the lottery.
In addition, when announcing members of the committee earlier this month, Gunn said, “The purpose of the study group is to gather information to show that the lottery is not the windfall that all its supporters claim it will be.”
Such comments and committee appointments, perhaps are what prompted Gov. Phil Bryant to say, “It is sort of an anti-lottery committee. You all get together and tell us why a lottery won’t work, and I’m the speaker and I want you to do that. I appreciate the speaker’s position on this and we’re continuing to look at the numbers.”
But members of the committee say their charge from the speaker is not to make a recommendation on the lottery, but to gather information and compile a report. Whether that information will result in the possible enactment of a lottery by the Legislature at a later date remains to be seen.
Two Northeast Mississippi House members on the speaker’s nine-person special committee, Reps. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, and Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, are on record as being opposed to the lottery. But, by the same token, they said their duty on the committee is to gather information to present to their fellow House members and the public at large.
In gathering the facts, “I will be completely objective,” Bain said. “I get paid to be objective (in gathering the facts) as an attorney. I will be on the lottery.”
Huddleston said there is a lot of information that needs to be gleaned before enacting or even voting on a lottery.
“This is huge,” he said. “A lot of decisions have to be made. We can’t just pass a lottery and go out and start printing cards.”
Another member of Gunn’s lottery study committee – Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs – said the speaker did not ask people he appointed to the committee to take a stand on the lottery.
“I really am not taking a position,” said Flaggs, a Democrat and former long-time member of the House. “The speaker never told us or asked us to be for or against the lottery.
“He just wants the facts.”
The only committee member to vote in favor of the lottery amendment, which failed during the 2017 session, was Rep. Cedric Burnett, D-Tunica. House Gaming Chair Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, voted against the amendment, though it is generally believed he favors the lottery.
Voting against the amendment along with Huddleston and Bain was Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Hattisburg.
The other members of the study group, like Flaggs, are non-House members. They are Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Gaming Commission; and James Barber, executive director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee. Lou Frascogna, special assistant attorney general and counsel to the Gaming Commission, also will provide input.
Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery. Many people contend that the state is losing a significant amount of money because of Mississippians traveling to neighboring states – Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana – to purchase lottery tickets.
Gov.Bryant, who until about one year ago opposed the lottery – cited the number of Mississippians traveling to other states to purchase lottery tickets as one of the reasons he now wants to consider enacting one in the state.
The second-term governor has even floated the idea of including a lottery proposal in the upcoming June 5 special session as a way to provide additional funds for transportation needs.
Huddleston said he does not think taking up the lottery issue that soon would be wise.
“I just don’t think we have enough information,” he said.
The committee will look at, members said, the potential revenue generated for the state from enacting a lottery, the social impact, the impact on casinos and the impact on other segments of the economy of a lottery.
In the past, the powerful casino industry has opposed the lottery. But Flaggs, who is mayor of a casino town, said he has heard no opposition recently from the casino industry.
Flaggs is in a unique position to serve on the committee because as mayor of Vicksburg he has casinos in his jurisdiction and his city is one of the key gateways for Mississippians traveling to other states to purchase lottery tickets.
“I am looking forward to getting information that shows what the facts are,” Bain said. “I think it will be nice intellectual exercise for all of us.”
But Bain admitted while he wants the facts, “The speaker and I are pretty much aligned…I can’t reconcile it with my personal Baptist faith.”
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