Is this the year lawmakers will take chance on lottery?

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 24, 2005

With Mississippi in dire budgetary straits, some are againfloating the idea of a statewide lottery.

State Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, introduced a bill last weekto institute a lottery, reasoning that many of the state’sresidents already are buying tickets in Louisiana and Georgia- neighboring states that have lotteries – and Mississippi islosing out on that money.

Keep the money in the state and help heal financial wounds atthe same time. Sounds simple enough.

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But there’s nothing simple about it. Mississippi lawmakers havetoyed with the idea of a state lottery since at least the 1980s,but there have never been enough votes to pass it in theLegislature, due in no small part to opposition from religiousgroups and casinos – an odd pairing to be sure, but both groupswith plenty to lose should the state enter the lottery game.

When considering a lottery, there is, of course, money to bemade, and Mississippi can use all it can get. But there is also thesocial implications of a lottery to consider – chief among themthat those who can least afford to play often spend the most.

Should it come to the point where a lottery is seriouslyconsidered, lawmakers and the public must take into account thatwhile lifting the state’s coffers, the game of chance could alsolower some of the state’s most vulnerable deeper into poverty.

Whatever is ultimately decided, two things are certain: First,if a lottery comes to be, the proceeds must be directed towardeducation and other specified areas, not tossed into the state’sgeneral fund for lawmakers to use, at will, for the spending-spreeproject du jour.

Second, if there is to be a lottery, that should be decideddirectly by the voters of Mississippi, not by lawmakers. An issueas controversial as legalized gambling, in any form, is best leftto the people.

Of course, all the controversy may be for naught – at least forthis year – as lawmakers in both the House and Senate predict the alottery would not have enough support to clear the Legislature.However, as lawmakers get further into the session and the entirebudget picture is clearly revealed, all bets are off.