Analysis: Natural foes to reunite yet again in opposition to lottery efforts
Nothing puts preachers and their flocks in political cahoots with the state's casino gaming industry barons faster than any serious talk of Mississippi authorizing a state lottery.
Fellow scribe Geoff Pender told us last week in a story about the possible prospects of Mississippi adopting a state lottery that Gov. Phil Bryant is "open" to a discussion of a state lottery.
The exact quote Pender attributed to Bryant was as follows: "I would be open to a general discussion regarding a statewide lottery. However, I would be opposed to this particular revenue being dedicated to specific expenses, such as public education. Our children's future should not be left to a game of chance."
There is a rather wide chasm between a public official being "open" to discussing a matter and willing to make a sea change from decades of prior opposition. Bryant's position on the issue is relevant, but the likelihood of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves or House Speaker Philip Gunn changing their prior opposition seems even more remote.
Several Mississippi legislators, mostly Democrats, have tried to navigate the state's political waters on the topic of a state lottery — including state Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, and state Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston. But the Legislature has rejected every attempt to get lottery legislation passed by that institution.
Legislators like Clarke and Reynolds have for well over a decade now introduced legislation to bring the lottery to Mississippi only to see the bill killed in the committee system by the influence of the strange political bedfellows who always team up to kill it.
Strange political bedfellows? Yes, and that reliable coalition is the state's casino gaming interests, their business and political friends, and the state's religious community. For the casinos, it's a matter of pure self-interest and for the churches, it simply is what it is.
Each Mississippi lottery fight brings to mind the frequent local-option liquor and beer elections that were more frequent in my childhood — a political passion play that saw the referendums that would legalize liquor or beer beaten back by a coalition of bootleggers and preachers.
Every state in the union sanctions lotteries except Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, and Mississippi. People in those six states have to drive across state lines to buy lottery tickets. And in Mississippi, with a $1.3 billion Powerball available, people are doing so in droves.
To be clear, the odds of winning are in the neighborhood of 1 in 292 million, and lottery ticket buyers are 250 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win Powerball.
The lottery's political fortunes in Mississippi seem illogical based on the lines of cars taking Mississippi lottery players to Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida to buy lottery tickets when the Powerball numbers are gaudy in those states.
The length of those lines brings some lawmakers and average citizens alike to ask why a portion of those funds can't stay in Mississippi to fund highways or education or public health or a host of other needs.
But when Clarke or Reynolds file pro-lottery legislation, legislative colleagues reliably kill the bill and do so in the name of either protecting the existing casino industry or from religious and moral concerns.
But in Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, lawmakers aren't protecting their existing gambling interests. They are, however, selling Mississippians as many lottery tickets as we will buy and reaping the tax revenue from it to address problems in their states.
And along the lines of protecting our state's existing casino gaming interests, it should be noted that Mississippi has the third-lowest state gaming tax rate in the country behind only Nevada and New Jersey. Mississippi levies a 12 percent tax rate on gross casino gaming revenues, of which 8 percent goes to the state and 4 percent to local governments. Louisiana levies 21.5 percent plus another 4 percent local tax.