Mississippi remains one of the few states without a lottery. For years Mississippi residents have been crossing state borders to play Arkansas lottery games along with Powerball and Mega Millions. Arkansas lottery officials are keeping an anxious eye on Mississippi as lawmakers prepare to consider launching a Mississippi lottery. Arkansas lottery officials say they don’t want to lose the revenues the Arkansas lottery received from Mississippi residents crossing state lines to purchase lottery tickets.
Out of the six states surrounding Arkansas only Mississippi does not have a lottery. In 1992 53% of Mississippi voters approved a proposal to remove a lottery ban from the Mississippi Constitution. To date Mississippi legislators have not passed legislation to create a state lottery. The chairman of Mississippi’s House Gaming Committee said he will hold fact-finding hearings about the lottery issue before the legislative session that begins January 8th and one Mississippi lawmaker has announced plans to introduce a lottery bill.
Arkansas lottery officials are worried. Before the state launched its lottery in September 2009 it was estimated that Arkansas residents were spending between $80 million and $100 million annually in adjacent states. After the Arkansas lottery was launched stores in eastern Oklahoma reported an immediate drop in sales of Oklahoma lottery tickets. Arkansas Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said the lottery has not done a study to determine how much Mississippi residents spend on Arkansas lottery tickets. Woosley added it is enough to affect the bottom line if it were taken away. Woosley told reporters “Given the history of the last four or five years and what we’ve seen from them taking from us, and then, alternatively, us taking from other states, it would have an impact.”
Woosley said more people are willing to cross state lines when lottery jackpots soar. Woosley noted that on November 28th the day of the record $587.5 million Powerball drawing three of the 10 top-selling Arkansas lottery retailers were located in Lake County a few miles from the Mississippi state line. Woosley said “That’s kind of telling.” Since Arkansas lottery sales are lagging the possibility of competition from Mississippi is unwelcome. Mississippi lottery supporters admit that they have their work cut out for them. Mississippi Rep. Alyce Clarke stated “I’ve tried it six different times, and I’m going to try it again this year.” She added “It doesn’t make sense to me to take our money to other states. I’m saying to my people that we need to educate our children, just as they’re doing theirs. It doesn’t make sense to continuously pretend that we are not playing the lottery.”
In the past religious opposition to a lottery in Mississippi has been fierce. Other opponents include the powerful and moneyed casino industry. According to a 2011 study casino revenues in Mississippi totaled $2.5 billion in the 2009 calendar year. Mississippi Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, who supports a lottery says the casino industry has enough power among lawmakers to sway voted. Bailey said “They know where to apply the pressure to kill it so it never gets to the floor.” When asked if he thinks Mississippi will ever have a lottery he said “Not in my lifetime.”