After tossing around this particular political football for a few days, state lawmakers finally got together to pass legislation that will see a state lottery operational in Mississippi in about a year.
Mississippi is one of only six states in the country without a lottery.
The final lottery hurdle came Tuesday when legislation finally passed in a special session of the Mississippi House by a vote of 58 to 54.
Just 24 hours earlier, the same bill was passed by the Senate. However, it failed to get through the House with a vote of 60 opposed and 54 in favor.
The long road to a Mississippi state lottery
A number of both Republican and Democratic representatives ultimately changed their votes, enabling the bill to pass. They say they did so because that’s what their constituents wanted. However, at least one representative went from supporting the bill to voting against it in an effort to earmark more money for public education.
Last week, the Senate and House both passed different versions of a lottery bill and spent Monday working towards finding common ground. All this came in a special session of the legislature called by Gov. Phil Bryant asking lawmakers to find money to repair the state’s crumbling highways and bridges.
More than 400 bridges in Mississippi are closed due to disrepair. The Mississippi Department of Transportation estimates it requires $400 million more per year to keep up maintenance on the state’s highways.
There have been efforts to establish a lottery for more than two decades in Mississippi. Bryant took up the cause more than one year ago, estimating a lottery could generate tens of millions of dollars a year and possibly act as a solution for highway and bridge repair.
Gov. Bryant also said three of the four states bordering Mississippi have a lottery. Residents are spending millions on lottery tickets elsewhere, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, and taking money out of Mississippi.
Religious groups opposed, but not casinos
The idea of a state lottery has long been opposed by powerful religious groups in Mississippi. Baptist and Pentecostal groups claim it is a regressive tax on poor people. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the US.
Mississippi casinos did not stand in the way. Instead, casinos chose to lobby against the authorization of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in truck stops. The VLTs bill did not pass.
After the lottery bill passed through the House, Gov. Bryant took to Twitter calling it a historic day in Mississippi and thanking lawmakers for rising to the occasion:
This is a historic day in Mississippi. Lawmakers rose to the occasion and passed the last part of a sustainable infrastructure funding mechanism that will also provide additional money for public education.
— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) August 28, 2018
Mississippi estimates it will take almost a year to get the new state lottery up and running.