Lottery Sign

For many years, the State of Mississippi had a constitutional prohibition on lotteries. Sec. 98 of the Mississippi Constitution (adopted in 1890) stated as follows:

No lottery shall ever be allowed, or be advertised by newspapers, or otherwise, or its tickets be sold in this State; and the legislature shall provide by law for the enforcement of this provision; nor shall any lottery heretofore authorized be permitted to be drawn or its tickets sold.

Despite the constitutional prohibition on lotteries, the Mississippi Legislature went to great pains to distinguish a “lottery” from “gaming” under the Mississippi Gaming Control Act. Miss. Code Section 75-76-3, adopted in 1990, provides:

The Legislature recognizes that Section 98 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 prohibits the conducting of any lottery in this state and that, while not defining the term “lottery,” Section 98 clearly contemplates, as indicated by specific language contained therein, that a lottery involves the sale of tickets and a drawing in order to determine the winner. The Legislature also recognizes that Section 98 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 directs the Legislature to provide by law for the enforcement of its provisions. Therefore, in carrying out its duties under the Constitution and effectuating the intent of Section 98, the Legislature hereby finds that a lottery, as prohibited by the Constitution, does not include all forms of gambling….

The 1990 gaming control statute further defined a “lottery” as any activity in which:

(a) The player or players pay or agree to pay something of value for chances, represented and differentiated by tickets, slips of paper or other physical and tangible documentation upon which appear numbers, symbols, characters or other distinctive marks used to identify and designate the winner or winners; and

(b) The winning chance or chances are to be determined by a drawing or similar selection method based predominately upon      the element of chance or random selection rather than upon the skill or judgment of the player or players; and

(c) The holder or holders of the winning chance or chances are to receive a prize or something of valuable consideration; and

(d) The activity is conducted and participated in without regard to geographical location, with the player or players not being required to be present upon any particular premises or at any particular location in order to participate or to win.

In 1992, however, the Mississippi Legislature authorized a proposal for a constitutional amendment that was approved by the voters of Mississippi on November 3, 1992, removing the prohibition on lotteries. Thus, Section 98 of the Mississippi Constitution stands repealed today.

Nevertheless, even though the voters repealed the constitutional ban, lotteries remain illegal in Mississippi under Miss. Code Section 97-33-31, which states that anyone convicted of operating a lottery “shall … be imprisoned in the penitentiary not exceeding five years.” The Mississippi Legislature would have to repeal this law for a lottery to become legal in this state.

After adoption of the gaming control act, nothing much of substance regarding lotteries happened for 24 years. In the last ten years or so, approximately 42 lottery bills were introduced but died in legislative committees.

Then, beginning with a new four-year term for legislators in 2016, the Mississippi House of Representatives surprisingly and abruptly approved an amendment to a bill that called for a state lottery. The bill died with the end of the 2016 legislative session.

Later in 2016, Governor Phil Bryant wrote in his Executive Budget Recommendation that he would be open to “a general discussion about the implementation of a lottery in Mississippi.”

This spurred discussion and comment from a number of statewide and other elected leaders before and during the 2017 Mississippi legislative session. While a number of lottery bills were introduced and sent to the gaming committee, none made it out of that committee. However, another committee approved an amendment to another bill that would have authorized a lottery. That bill died on the calendar before a House vote was taken. The Senate has not considered any lottery bill in 2016 or 2017.

In the spring of 2017, the Mississippi House Lottery Study Working Group organized and met to consider the pros and cons of enacting a state lottery. The Working Group has publicly stated that its “intent … is not to make a recommendation, but to find the facts”. The group expects to hold at least three more public meetings to consider the issues. Linked here is a PowerPoint presentation made to the Study Working Group on May 25, 2017.

Some estimates peg additional state revenues from a lottery at about $30 million per year, while other persons knowledgeable of the lottery industry say the number could be as high as $80-90 million a year in additional Mississippi state budget money.

Thus far, Gov. Bryant has stated a general position in favor of a lottery under the right circumstances; Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn has taken an unfavorable stance; and, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has taken no definitive position on the subject.

Rumors had circulated that the Governor would add to his call for the June 5, 2017, Special Legislative Session the consideration of a state lottery, but those rumors proved unfounded and no such call was issued. Many prognosticators predict the lottery issue will return in a serious way during the 2018 legislative session as the state budget further tightens.

Largely unanswered at this point is how will the existing casino industry respond to any serious attempt to adopt a lottery in Mississippi. On May 15, 2017, the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association delivered a letter to Gov. Bryant asking him to delay any consideration of a lottery bill until a formal regular legislative session and requesting that the state conduct a “thorough economic impact analysis.”

Will Mississippi adopt a state lottery? Only time will tell, and the prospects certainly face challenges. But, few thought Mississippi would ever approve of casino gaming either.