Should Mississippi, one of the most gambling-addicted states in the nation, implement a lottery?
Whether Mississippi—the poorest state in the nation—should implement a state lottery has been an ongoing discussion for years, and one lawmakers are now considering adding to the 2018 legislative agenda.
How it could affect Mississippi’s gamblers, who already stand out among the most addicted in the nation, is a complex question.
Despite sitting firmly in the Bible Belt, culturally and politically, Mississippi already has a robust gambling culture, thanks to the state’s casinos. Mississippi is one of five states with more gaming machines per capita than anywhere else in the country. While the state’s casinos are designed to boost tourism, Mississippians—and their losses—are the primary source of revenue.
A popular argument for a state lottery is that if Mississippians are already spending millions in lotteries based in surrounding states including Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, that money should be redirected to support the state’s economy. Critics argue gambling is a destructive regressive tax used to replace state funding shortfalls, particularly in a state like Mississippi, where poorer gamblers are automatically more burdened than their wealthier counterparts by making the same bets.
Jake McGraw of Rethink Mississippi argued against a state lottery in a 2016 column, citing oversold economic benefits and underestimated personal cost:
“Under the best case scenario, lottery revenue would add a little more than 1 percent to the state’s discretionary budget or around 2 percent to K-12 and higher education,” McGraw said. “Under the worst case scenario, state spending wouldn’t increase by a penny. Instead, state leaders would use the $72 million windfall to replace other forms of tax revenue.”
McGraw also points out how lotteries are deceptively promoted as “win-win” games for both the state and the participant, meaning revenue for Mississippi and entertainment for Mississippians with the chance of big wins.
“That’s an impressive feat of marketing considering that the definition of a lottery is a game that almost everybody loses almost every time,” McGraw said. “Even compared to other forms of gambling, the house is remarkably stingy. Lotteries pay out about 50 percent, far less than bingo (74 percent), horseracing (81 percent), slots (89 percent), or blackjack (98 percent).”
Other statistics suggest many Mississippians could end up losing in more ways than one with the implementation of a state lottery, especially considering the state is tied with Minnesota for having the largest percentage of adult residents in the nation with gambling disorders.
While recreational gamblers have the ability to bet responsibly without putting their finances and personal lives at risk, compulsive gamblers suffer from an addiction that often requires treatment similar to that of drug and alcohol addiction. Most problem gamblers are at high risk of amassing significant debt, suffering from gambling-related mental and physical health problems and even sacrificing their professional and personal lives to fuel their addiction.
If that weren’t enough, Mississippi is tied with Illinois for the most gambling-related arrests per capita.
Do you support or oppose Mississippi adopting a state lottery? Why?