Thousands of Mississippians are heading across state lines to buy lottery tickets for a chance to win the $800 million Powerball jackpot, sending money out of the state and into Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida.
Mississippi is one of six states- Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, and Nevada- that does not have a state lottery, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State lawmakers turned down the opportunity to create a Mississippi lottery in February of 2015 when District 69 Representative Alyce Clarke’s House Bill 761 died in committee.
Clarke proposed a state lottery to fund higher education through a scholarship program.
According to Senator Joey Fillingane, District 41, decisions made by lawmakers 20 years ago are keeping the state from allowing a state lottery.
“The reason Mississippi hasn’t participated in the power ball or any sort of lottery is because about 20 years ago we were faced with the issue of either doing the lottery or casinos,” Fillingane said. “It was sort of an agreement made of course by the legislatures at that time that we would do one or the other.”
Not only would representatives have to make new agreements with casinos, but there is also concern for what it means for lower income families.
Senator Toby Barker said his constitutes are worried about what that change means for low income families.
“There’s a lot of data that says people with less income tend to spend more on that so it tends to be more of a social burden on the poor,” Barker said.
District 45 Senator Billy Hudson said, “That money comes out of people’s pockets, and you’re odds of hitting that lottery, you’re better off that you’re going to be struck by lightning.”
Even though the idea hasn’t made it to the capitol floor, one lawmaker is already thinking of what to do with the cash.
According to District 44 Senator John Polk education is not the way to go.
Polk said, “I would not be in favor of assigning it says okay let’s say all money will go to education, because if that happens then all that’s going to happen then is that we’ll take money from the general fund for education.”
Polk said a better way for the state to benefit would be adding an extra tax to the lottery tickets and have profits go into the general fund.
Still the question remains, if it went to the floor today, would it pass?
Lawmakers across the state are torn. Either way, we’ll have to see what comes out this year.