Going into this session of the Mississippi Legislature, momentum was supposedly building to enact a state lottery as a way to try to shore up the state’s pinched treasury.
We don’t know what happened to that momentum, but we’re certainly glad it dissipated, as a handful of lottery bills died by not making it out of committee before last week’s deadline.
Getting out of committee is no guarantee of passage, but the fact that lawmakers didn’t bother to keep the discussion alive would suggest that there are some serious reservations within the state’s Republican leadership as to whether the lottery is all it’s cracked up to be.
Both Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have said they oppose a lottery, while Gov. Phil Bryant, a former lottery opponent, has been a proponent. Not surprisingly, the will of the legislative leadership carries a lot more weight than the will of the governor.
On this issue, both Reeves and Gunn are right.
A lottery is a terribly inefficient way to raise money. Last year, Gunn had a study committee research how well other states did with their lotteries. It found in its sampling of states that on average for every dollar spent on lottery tickets, the states netted just 28 cents. In other words, the state had to spend 72 cents to make 28. Compare that to a straightforward tax increase, for which less than a penny on average is spent on administration for every dollar collected.
Furthermore, a lottery would come nowhere close to raising the amount of money the state needs to address some of its biggest problems. Best guess is it would generate about $80 million to $90 million extra a year. That’s not even a fourth of what a comprehensive effort to repair and replace the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges would cost a year — just one of the big-ticket items Mississippi faces.
But the most compelling reason of all not to enact a lottery is that it takes advantage of the poor and undereducated, who would be the most tempted to waste their limited funds on the vastly remote chance of striking it rich. If a lottery were in place, the state would be in the business of trying to get people to spend a higher and higher percentage of their income on it — thus making the large percentage of poor in this state even poorer.
Proponents point to all the polls that show a clear majority of citizens are in favor of a lottery. Sometimes, however, it’s the responsibility of those in authority to protect the citizens from their own foolishness. This is one of those times.