State lottery bill could bring scratch-offs to Oxford

Posted on Aug 29 2018 - 5:50am by Slade Rand and Taylor Vance

On Tuesday, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a lottery bill after initially voting against it on Monday. The bill will now be sent to the governor, who has already indicated his support for the bill. If signed into law, this bill would allow for gas stations and other approved vendors across the state, including those in Oxford, to sell lottery tickets.

This lottery bill comes at a time when hundreds of bridges have been closed throughout the state because of structural concerns and after a sports betting bill passed in the previous legislative session.

Rep. Jay Hughes speaks in the Grove at a Boys State event on campus in 2016. Photo courtesy Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications.

State Rep. Jay Hughes, of Oxford, said he voted in favor of the lottery bill because he believes “individuals should have the freedom to spend their own money without the government making decisions for them.”

“Most other arguments I have heard for or against the lottery are based on morals,” Hughes said. “I do not believe it is the job or right of the legislature to attempt to legislate morals. If so, where does it end?”

Hughes said proceeds from the lottery are slated to go toward infrastructure for the first 10 years, but he would like to see the funds go toward public education. Louisiana’s state lottery, for comparison, netted nearly $180 million in proceeds that directly benefited the state’s education system in the most recent fiscal year.

“It has been equally frustrating to watch Mississippians spend millions of dollars each year on the public education in Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee,” Hughes said.

For most of Mississippi’s history, the lottery has been banned by the state constitution. Although voters chose to repeal this ban in 1992 by a ballot initiative, until now there has never been a successful lottery bill passed in the legislature.

As the bill made its way through the House, members approved an amendment proposed by state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, of Gulfport, that would repurpose lottery proceeds in excess of $80 million each year toward pre-K education.

“I don’t look at it as my education amendment. It is the students’ and Mississippi’s education amendment,” Williams-Barnes said. “It took all of those who voted for it and continue to vote.”

She said the bill’s additional focus on education can benefit the overall financial well-being of Mississippians.

“First of all, I think that the avenue from poverty to wealth is education. It’s important that we support public education so that we can fix some of the issues of poverty that exist in our state,” Williams-Barnes said.

Ray Rupani has owned Four Corners Chevron just off the Square for eight years and said he is excited about the potential of a state lottery. He said he would sell lottery tickets under whatever laws the state requires.

“If the state of Mississippi starts carrying it, I would carry the lottery also,” Rupani said. “That would bring a lot of new customers, bring opportunities, bring revenues and all of that.”

Rupani owned a gas station in Collierville, Tennessee, before moving to Oxford. Tennessee operates a statewide lottery, and Rupani said that in his years there he became familiar with selling lottery tickets at his gas station.

“It’s all computerized and automatic. All you do is just keep up with the inventory, and that’s it,” he said.

He said his most popular lottery ticket sales were the Powerball and scratch-off tickets.

Amer Alowdi, who works at the Texaco station down the road from Rupani’s Chevron, said his gas station would also sell lottery tickets if the lottery bill becomes law. Alowdi’s cousin, Omar Alowdi, owns the Marathon gas station across the street and said that if the state passes a lottery bill, he would also participate in the lottery.

“I would take a chance to do so,” Omar Alowdi said.