JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi casino operators would not be against the creation of a state lottery that sells paper tickets for scratch-off games or multistate Powerball games, but they would vehemently oppose video gambling in places like bars and convenience stores, said the head of a group that represents 28 casinos.
Larry Gregory, director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, spoke to members of a lottery study commission Thursday at the state Capitol. The association represents all of the state-regulated casinos, which are on the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River.
Gregory said casinos’ annual gross revenue in Illinois has decreased nearly 14 percent since 2012, when that state legalized electronic games that he called video lottery terminals, or VLTs. He said more than 27,000 terminals are in nearly 6,200 locations in Illinois.
“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, noting that Mississippi casinos have rebuilt after hurricanes and floods.
Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, and Republican state House Speaker Philip Gunn appointed the study group in May. Gunn opposes a lottery but said he wanted the commission to gather information about how the games of chance are run in other states, including neighboring Louisiana and Arkansas.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant suggested during his State of the State address in January that Mississippi should consider creating a lottery as a way to generate revenue without raising taxes.
Mississippi’s state economist, Darrin Webb, said Mississippi residents spend an estimated $5 million to $10 million a year playing the lottery in Arkansas and about $30 million playing the lottery in Louisiana. He said the figures came from lottery administrators in those states.
House Gaming Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Republican from Biloxi, said the commission will issue a report before the legislative session begins in January — but it won’t make a recommendation for or against creating a Mississippi lottery.
Both Webb and Bryan Farrell, a researcher from Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government, told the commission Thursday that lotteries are regressive, meaning they take proportionally more money from people with lower incomes than from the wealthy.
Farrell said people could spend money on lottery tickets rather than on purchasing items in stores, which would decrease sales tax collections.
Webb told the commission that a lottery “will likely have a relatively small negative impact on the state’s economy.”
“Mississippi is already plagued by people making poor choices, including decisions about their health, family planning and educational training,” Webb said. “A Mississippi lottery means the state will be investing in and encouraging individuals who have limited incomes to make poor financial decisions.”
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