Mississippi lawmakers continued debate on Thursday about costs and benefits of having a lottery, and held a panel to receive input from the casino industry on a topic that has divided the state’s legislature.

Lottery ticket sales

Proponents for a lottery in Mississippi have designs on seeing long lines like this one to help bring in an estimated $100 million annually. (Image: NBC News)

It was the final of several meetings that began in May by Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who opposes the prospect but said the form of wagering had to be addressed.

An official representing 28 Mississippi casinos told the lottery study commission they wouldn’t have an issue with a paper type system and scratch cards, but would fiercely oppose any type of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in places such as bars or convenience stores.

Larry Gregory, director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, spoke to the House panel and said his group, which represents all the state-regulated casinos on the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River, would see their income decline if the state allowed VLTs.

“It would not be an overstatement to say that from gaming’s standpoint, the passage of legislation legalizing VLTs would be equivalent to the industry suffering a natural disaster,” Gregory said.

Revenue Generation

Mississippi is one of six states that does not have its own lottery or sell Powerball tickets. Nevada, Hawaii, Utah, Alaska, and neighboring Alabama are the others. Lawmakers in the Magnolia state are considering leaving that group of holdouts.

Mississippi voters approved a Constitutional change that would allow a lottery in 1992, but little action has been taken since then to install one.

But now lawmakers are considering it more seriously as the state government searches for ways to balance its budget. Economist Darrin Webb told members of the legislature that a lottery would bring $101.4 million to $116 million to the general fund.

He also noted that Mississippi residents travel to nearby Arkansas and Louisiana to play Powerball and other lotteries. Citing figures from those states’ lottery administrators, Webb said Mississippi residents spend an estimated $5 million to $10 million annually on tickets in Arkansas and about $30 million in Louisiana.

Societal Costs

Webb added that retail sales tax collections would decline anywhere from $18.8 million to $22.2 million. That is caused by a decrease in retail sales, which would reduce employment, income and gross domestic product over time, economic research states, he said.

The other negative issue is the impact it would have on poorer constituents. Bryan Ferrell, with the Stennis Institute, warned the panel that lotteries are usually a tax on poor people because they are the ones who play it more frequently and are the segment of the population that can least afford it.

Webb agreed with Ferrell and told the legislative group that a lottery could become a societal problem.

“Mississippi is already plagued by people making poor choices, including decisions about their health, family planning and educational training,” he said. “A Mississippi lottery means the state will be investing in and encouraging individuals who have limited incomes to make poor financial decisions.”