AP Analysis: Miss. likely to remain lottery hold-out - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Statewide 11/23/08

AP Analysis: Miss. likely to remain lottery hold-out

Written by Jack Elliott/AP Writer
Posted by Tom Wright - email

JACKSON, MS (AP) - As the number of states with lotteries grow, Mississippi and Alabama remain outsiders.

Mississippi and Alabama are now surrounded by lottery states - Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Arkansas voters approved a lottery Nov. 4, and it could be several months before ticket sales begin.

Nationally, only seven states don't have a lottery. Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming are the others.

There's little chance passage of a lottery in Arkansas will motivate Mississippi lawmakers into action.

Mississippi had a 1992 referendum that removed the state constitution's ban on a lottery, but legislators have not created the game of chance here. The last serious discussion of the issue was during the 1993 legislative session.

In 1990, lawmakers were roundly criticized for passing Gov. Ray Mabus' education reform program without setting aside money to pay for it. Mabus wanted to use the proceeds from a lottery to pay for it.

In Alabama, a proposed lottery to fund public education was an agenda centerpiece for newly elected Gov. Don Siegelman in 1999. It easily passed the Legislature but was rejected by voters later that year as the religious right campaigned against it. Siegelman didn't try to bring it back to life, and no one else has, either.

In May, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told gaming executives that a lottery would not pass in the Magnolia State.

"If you want to have a tax on the poor, a lottery is about the perfect tax on the poor," Barbour said.

Mississippi Gaming Commission executive director Larry Gregory says he's seen little interest in a lottery. Also, Gregory says it's difficult to maintain casino gambling and a lottery at the same time, with both forms of gambling competing for the same discretionary dollar.

State Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, says lawmakers haven't ignored the issue but there's been no widespread support for a lottery. Moak says many states where lotteries exist have earmarked the proceeds for education.

"Probably, politically, if the Legislature was going to address it they would want to earmark the proceeds. Georgia is the first state that comes to mind that's had a very successful program in doing that," Moak said.

Even if money were tied to education, the Mississippi Baptist Convention would oppose a lottery, says William Perkins, editor of The Baptist Record, the group's weekly news journal. "It's really not appropriate to take an evil enterprise and dedicate its proceeds to noble causes," Perkins said. "That doesn't make it any less of an evil enterprise. Gambling is an evil enterprise that Mississippi Baptists will forever be opposed to in any form - and that includes  lotteries."

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter championed the lottery in his state amid opposition from religious and conservative groups.

Proceeds from Arkansas' state-run game will be dedicated to college scholarships. Halter estimated the lottery would bring in $100 million annually, though critics argued the revenues would be significantly lower.

Arkansas voters rejected lotteries twice before, but earlier proposals tied them in with casinos.

However, consider the benefits to education in the neighboring states:

  • Georgia lottery sales for fiscal year 2008 totaled $3.5 billion and proceeds to education were $867 million.
  • Florida transferred $1.28 billion to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund in fiscal year 2007-2008.
  • The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation reports that the total raised for education since inception is more than $1.2 billion. Lottery ticket sales began Jan. 20, 2004.
  • The Louisiana Lottery Corporation says it turned over $121.8 million to the state during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The treasury department gets 35 percent of lottery sales - money that goes to the education budget.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-11-24-08 0100EST

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