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Mississippi House again seeks lottery despite dim prospects

JACKSON (AP) — A longtime proponent of a lottery for Mississippi tried again Thursday to prod legislative leaders to consider one, although a symbolic vote supporting the concept could amount to little.

Rep. Alyce Clarke on Thursday amended Senate Bill 2976, the budget for the state Gaming Commission, to say the agency wouldn’t get any money in the budget year starting July 1 until Mississippi enacts a lottery to benefit schools, roads and cities.

The Gaming Commission regulates casinos and charitable gambling in the state.

Clarke, a Jackson Democrat, said the move is meant to send a message to Republican leaders that most lawmakers support a lottery. GOP leaders have been lukewarm at best to a lottery, saying they have concerns over promoting gambling and how the game might affect other tax collections.

“I just want to make sure that when this bill goes on to the Senate, the senators know we want this,” Clarke said.

The amendment was adopted on an unrecorded voice vote, and the bill then passed 88-26. The measure is headed to a conference between the House and Senate to work out differences in the two chambers’ version of the bill. Negotiators could strip out the demand for lottery during those talks, although opponents argued the move could leave the commission without any money to enforce gambling laws.

“If we vote for this, there won’t be any regulation of gaming at all,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, a Braxton Republican.

Twice in 2016, the House amended a bill to demand a lottery, but those efforts came to nothing. But neither House Speaker Philip Gunn nor Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has emerged as a champion for the issue, despite strong support among some legislators. With Gov. Phil Bryant shifting into active support for a lottery in recent years, Gunn and Reeves have said they wouldn’t necessarily block the measure. But bills to create a lottery have continued to die in the chambers they lead.

Lottery supporters, however, streamed to the microphone in the House to state their support Thursday.

“How long do we have to suffer over bringing voluntary taxation, since you people won’t vote for a tax?” asked Rep. Steve Holland, a Plantersville Democrat.

Other, though, urged patience.

“Personally, I do support the lottery,” said Rep. Casey Eure, a Biloxi Republican. “I believe before the term is up we can see a lottery.”