With Mississippi in dire budgetary straits, some are again floating the idea of a statewide lottery
Mississippi State Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, introduced a bill last week to institute a lottery, reasoning that many of the state's residents already are buying tickets in Louisiana and Georgia - neighboring states that have lotteries - and Mississippi is losing out on that money.
Keep the money in the state and help heal financial wounds at the same time. Sounds simple enough.
But there's nothing simple about it. Mississippi lawmakers have toyed with the idea of a state lottery since at least the 1980s, but there have never been enough votes to pass it in the Legislature, due in no small part to opposition from religious groups and casinos - an odd pairing to be sure, but both groups with plenty to lose should the state enter the lottery game.
When considering a lottery, there is, of course, money to be made, and Mississippi can use all it can get. But there is also the social implications of a lottery to consider - chief among them that those who can least afford to play often spend the most.
Should it come to the point where a lottery is seriously considered, lawmakers and the public must take into account that while lifting the state's coffers, the game of chance could also lower 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 toward education and other specified areas, not tossed into the state's general fund for lawmakers to use, at will, for the spending-spree project du jour.
Second, if there is to be a lottery, that should be decided directly by the voters of Mississippi, not by lawmakers. An issue as controversial as legalized gambling, in any form, is best left to the people.
Of course, all the controversy may be for naught - at least for this year - as lawmakers in both the House and Senate predict the a lottery would not have enough support to clear the Legislature. However, as lawmakers get further into the session and the entire budget picture is clearly revealed, all bets are off.