Lottery no longer sure bet after House defeat

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, August 28, 2018

By Bobby Harrison

Mississippi Today

JACKSON — The House of Representatives rejected Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to enact a state lottery on Monday night, stunning lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol and most who have followed the special session since last week.

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The conference report, agreed to earlier in the day by House and Senate leaders, was defeated by a vote of 60-54. The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, meaning House members could revive the proposal on Tuesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, passed the same proposal Monday night with a 31-17 vote.

“This is one of those votes that you make depending on what your people want,” said a stunned Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, who handled the bill on the House floor. “Ethically or morally if you are against it, I think you need to vote against it.”

The proposal would create a quasi-government agency called the Mississippi Lottery Corp. that would be overseen by a five-member board of governor’s appointees. Those appointees would select a president of the corporation, subject to the governor’s veto, and they would hire a private company to oversee the implementation of the game.

Lawmakers said the proposal would generate $80 million per year in revenue – a majority of which would be earmarked for state road and bridge repairs. Leaders tweaked the conference report, sending any revenue in excess of $80 million to the Education Enhancement Fund. After 10 years, the lottery revenue would flow directly into the state’s General Fund.

Gov. Bryant, who drafted the bill and has put his weight behind it this special session, blamed Democrats on Twitter after the vote. Of the 60 representatives who voted no, 34 were Republicans.

“House Democrats voted to continue losing more than $80 million to Ark., Louisiana and Tenn., $10 million-$20 million of which could have gone to education,” Bryant tweeted. “With federal matching funds included, that could be a $160 million loss. Hope they can explain that to their communities.”

Over the weekend, Bryant publicly thanked Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for their work on the proposal.

The move sent shock waves through the Capitol Monday night. Seconds after the vote, legislators shared shocked looks. Staffers scrambled to determine what happened. Legislators and staff on the Senate floor buzzed as they checked their phones and saw the news breaking from the opposite chamber.

Most everyone at the Capitol immediately began asking the question: Why?

The bill had passed the House by a comfortable margin earlier in the special session, which began Thursday. And Monday, twice before the final vote, the House rejected efforts to send the bill back for additional negotiations with the Senate.

Gunn, R-Clinton, has for years spoken against implementing a state lottery, but he pledged not to block the issue on the House floor. By the same token, Gunn voted against the bill Monday night and did not appear to use his influence to convince members of his Republican conference, which holds a three-fifths supermajority, to vote for the proposal.

Many House and Senate members publicly stated the bill as written gave too much power to the lottery corporation. Some lamented the game’s negative effect on the poor.

Others said they hadn’t been given enough time to read and understand the bill.