Taking a bet: Would a Mississippi lottery be worth the gamble?


While hundreds of thousands of Americans flock to their local convenience stores in hopes of winning the jackpot, Magnolia State residents unwind at black jack tables in swanky casinos, hoping to score double their money.

In 2014, American’s spent nearly $70.1 billion on lotto games, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. What The Atlantic compared it to was shocking: that amount is more than $300 for each adult in the 43 states where lotteries are legal.

A state-run lottery in Mississippi is currently non-existent, but advocates have previously attempted to pass a lottery bill. Five other states have joined the anti-lottery brigade for various reasons.

But the dispute made about whether Mississippi should or should not have the “game of chance” has been debated in the past.

So far, legislators in opposition have succeeded in keeping a state lottery at bay.

“The general consensus is that the debate has already happened,” said Joey Filingane, Mississippi state senator (R-MS). “We’ve already reached an agreement and this is the direction the state went in.”

Many residents may wonder why Mississippi legislators have already reached consensus because the reasons are not widely known.

Since casinos began to sprout in the state, an industry began to boost the local economy. Casino supporters said if the state had a lottery, it would hurt casinos’ sales and the people they employ.

But, in 2013, 30 Mississippi casinos collected nearly $2.1 billion in gross gaming revenue, Mississippi Business reported. This was the lowest revenue since 1997. More and more states have legalized gaming to keep game dollars on their own turf, which has hurt the Mississippi River Casinos.

Nevada is a state that thrives on the gaming industry, but many may be surprised to know that it does not have a state lottery. CNN Money reported that in a state that embraces gambling of all kinds, the casinos do not want the competition of a lottery. The same goes for Mississippi.

Religion also comes into play with wanting to win big. In 1992, Mississippi was struggling economically and legislature brought up the issue of removing the lottery ban. A referendum was passed and the constitutional ban was lifted, according to a law research paper done by Mississippi law student John Guice.

But, the law was never enacted because of strong religious opposition and concerns from the new casino supporters at the time.

According to 2015 BBC article, “Mississippi casinos and riverboat gambling are a popular industry that have joined with anti-gambling religious institutions that hold greater sway in the Deep South ‘Bible Belt’ to keep the lottery at bay.”

A similar instance happened in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1999 when a referendum passed to shun the lottery because many pastors in the state saw gambling as “moral corruption and injustice to the poor,” reported The New York Times.

In regards to this, additional taxes that come with the lottery also have seemed to burden the poor. According to Guice’s research, “the objective of a lottery is to help the state by increasing revenue to help those with lower incomes.”

But, a problem arises when you live in the poorest state in America. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2013 that 22.7 percent of Mississippians were living below the poverty line.

Guice compares this additional tax to a sales tax in a grocery store. “Sales tax is going to take a bigger chunk of the money that you have if you are poor,” he said.

So he said if you are a wealthy person, it does the opposite. The same situation happens with the lottery.

The “Journal of Gambling Studies” reported in 2011 that poor people are still the leading customers of the lottery. Another study finds that the poor has the highest rate of lottery gambling at 61 percent.

The idea of increased gambling in Mississippi is also a concern. According to Guice’s research, casinos have safeguards to aid those with gambling addictions. Lotteries do not have these and could not strictly enforce or prevent new and old compulsive gamblers.

If one turns back the clock, lottery proceeds were primarily earmarked for public education and they are still promoted this way today. In the Louisiana lottery, 35 percent of every $1 in lottery sales goes to the Department of Treasury, which is allocated for education funding, according to Louisianalottery.com. Since 1995, more than $1.8 billion has been set aside for special programs in education.

According to Guice’s research, many states that have passed lotteries have used education funding to gain support. It is seen as a promotional trick.

“The legislature knows that not all the money goes toward education, but that is how they sell (the idea),” Guice said. He said the money is being appropriated to other things in the lottery’s fund.

He also pointed out that a lottery would appeal to Mississippians because of the struggling public school system, which is ranked 51st in the nation. But, data reveals that the percentage being designated for funding can be misleading, according to CBS News.

Take the state of New York, for instance. Guice said after the lottery was implemented, education fell by 5 percent. In fact, 21 of 24 states where lotteries devoted its proceeds to education, the spending per student declined.

The push for the lottery in Mississippi is no stranger to the state legislature. Lotteries were birthed in the 1800s and Mississippi constitutionally prohibited it in 1869, according to Mississippi State Lottery Laws. Fraud was commonplace in lotteries in the 1900s and steep opposition emerged. For the next 100 years, discussion of the lottery was rarely mentioned in the state legislature.

Efforts to enact a lottery were active in the 1990s with Gov. Raymond Mahus proposing a new education program to be funded by the lottery. While more than half of the general public agreed with his plan, the Senate ended up killing the bill.

Miss. Rep. Alyce Clarke has introduced lottery legislation seven times in the state of Mississippi, but each time has led to a dead end, according to the Council of State Governments.

Clarke said most Mississippians already play the lottery in neighboring states where it is legal, and she wants to see revenue from state lottery used exclusively for high-achieving students and scholarships, the Arkansas News Bureau reported.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to take out money to other states,” she told the Council of State Governments. “I’m saying to my people that we need to educate our children, just as they’re doing theirs. It doesn’t make sense to continuously pretend that we are not playing the lottery.”

According to BBC, there is no one explanation for a state’s reluctance to the lottery. Utah opposes it because of religion. Alabama and Mississippi are hesitant because of casino competition and religious opposition. Alaska does not need it; they already generate so much revenue from drilling oil. A Hawaii senator argues it will harm its tourism industry. What it comes down to is moral, fiscal or even geographical issues in the state.

The future seems bleak for a state lottery to be implemented in the Magnolia State, but it is not completely disregarded.

For now, Mississippians will just have to keep placing their bets or playing the slot machines at the nearest gambling den.