Lottery bill clears Mississippi House panel, prospects dim

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

By Emily Wagster Pettus

Associated Press

JACKSON (AP) — A Mississippi House committee voted Tuesday to create a state lottery, but the proposal faces a tough future with opposition from the Republican House speaker.

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The Judiciary A Committee on Tuesday changed House Bill 804. The bill originally dealt with determining whether criminal defendants are mentally competent to stand trial. After a brief discussion with few details offered, the committee chairman offered a plan to overhaul the bill to create a state lottery.

The revised bill passed the committee and moves to the full House for more work.

The committee chairman, Republican Mark Baker of Brandon, said he pushed the change because he wants to keep alive the possibility of a lottery. Tuesday was the first big deadline of the legislative session, and without a vote in a committee, the proposal would have died.

“I’d like a lottery, so I put it in there,” Baker told The Associated Press after the committee meeting.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said during his State of the State address Jan. 17 that Mississippi should consider a lottery as state tax collections fall short of expectations.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, is a leader in his local Baptist church and has been a longtime opponent of expanding gambling in a state that legalized casinos years before he took office.

“The speaker has not changed his position on the lottery. He still opposes it,” Gunn spokeswoman Meg Annison said Tuesday.

House rules prohibit significantly rewriting bills from their original purpose, which means House Bill 804 could be subject to a parliamentary challenge that could kill the bill before it even comes up for debate in the 122-member chamber.

Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several proposals to create a lottery in the Bible Belt state have died during the past two decades, usually with little or no debate in the Legislature. Bryant has been elected with the support of conservative religious groups that oppose the games of chance, but he said several months ago that he would be open to discussion about the issue.