I went to buy a lottery ticket in Mississippi; everything’s broken
It was a historic day in Mississippi Thursday. It became the 45th state to start selling lottery tickets. But in true Mississippi style, things didn’t quite go to plan. Some people might say it was a little cattywampus.
I was expecting palpable excitement and restless hope, as people lined up outside of gas station doors in the hope of winning the jackpot of $40 million and finally fulfilling their lifelong dream of moving to Alabama.
But I didn’t see any of that. “What’s going on?” I wondered to myself while already imagining the ways in which I would blow the jackpot on something that my parents would find infuriating, like disappearing forever.
My best guess was that people were at home watching daytime TV, maybe Judge Judy or reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard. Or maybe the rumors were true and people in Mississippi had jobs.
This man won five scratch offs.
The truth was even more puzzling.
One Chevron gas station owner said he’d been waiting two months just to get the scratch-offs, which went on sale back in late November. He didn’t even have a lottery machine, he said.
This was all curious since the Governor of Mississippi signed the lottery into law Sept. 1 2018. I knew things moved slow in Mississippi, but this was slower than the Amtrak train from New Orleans to Mobile.
The gas station owners I spoke to in Pascagoula, the closest major Mississippi city to Alabama’s Gulf Coast, told me more or less the same story. “We’re waiting on them coming to train us,” said the person manning the checkout at Murphy’s gas station. Same deal at Papa Rock’s Oaks gas station in Moss Point, the first gas station I came across on my journey to a life of great riches and anonymity. And unlimited conecuh sausage.
The owner of T&S Cornermart said he’d sent in all the paperwork but couldn’t get anyone on the phone at the Mississippi Lottery. He then asked if I was from the state lottery. I said “no,” while simultaneously thinking how much I have in common with a lottery. Unpredictable and ultimately disappointing.
Others said they were waiting on permits.
I drove to a dozen more gas stations in Pascagoula looking for a shot at glory, a way to pay off my car note once and for all, and finally invest in Moon Pies so I can make them taste of something other than sweet cardboard.
As I drove down the main road in Pascagoula, weaving in and out of the endless roadworks, I wondered if everything in Mississippi was dysfunctional. I then saw a small U.S. Postal Service van being pulled by a pickup truck. And, as I walked into a Starbucks the transformer blew. I was forced to get my Turkey and Pesto ciabatta roll elsewhere.
The answer was yes, everything here is broken. I saw potholes that made the moon look smooth.
A U.S. Postal Service van hitching a ride in Mississippi.
And while you may not believe it, Mississippi is my favorite state because like me, it’s doesn’t do anything very quickly and also has no money. But best of all, we don’t care what others think.
So, Pascagoula was a wash.
“How will I get rich if stay here?” I thought. I decided people in Biloxi, home of Mississippi’s towering cash cow casinos, would probably know what’s up.
I started driving to Gautier, a cute little town west of Pascagoula. I happened upon Keith’s Superstore. Although Mr. Keith wasn’t available for comment today, the women behind the counter said that a majority of people were buying lottery tickets and scratch-offs with most purchases of gas or items from the store.
But still no lines of people dreaming of spending all their lottery winnings in Margaritaville.
But you could see people with heads down inside their cars in Keith’s parking lot, furiously scratching the thin metallic layer separating them from a cash win, which I hope they’ll spend on a vintage orange 1969 Dodge Charger. Doors welded shut, obviously.
One man walked in with five winning tickets and immediately asked for his winnings in more scratch-offs, which I’m told is what most people do. The checkout woman said it had been a steady stream of winners all day, usually $100 or below. If you win more than $600 you have to send your winning ticket or scratch-off to the lottery office in Flowood, Mississippi, wherever that is.
I immediately recalled the immobilized USPS van and decided I would probably drive my winning ticket to the office in person. Then I would almost certainly helicopter home like a boss.
Every state bordering Alabama now has a state lottery, investing proceeds into roads, bridges, education, and kindergarten, among other things. Religious objections have prevented a lottery making it through in Montgomery. God, it seems, is cool with potholes.
At a Circle K in Biloxi, Fred Adams bought $9 worth of tickets and promised to split it with Shelby, who was the in-store lottery expert that day. After being asked what he’d do if he won the lottery, Adams said, after 45 seconds of deliberation, he’d take his family on vacation. It was unconvincing because I could tell he would move to Alabama in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t?!
Buying a Mississippi lottery ticket.
“I’m gonna be the first jackpot winner,” Shelby said after Adams had left. I was moderately happy for her.
It was also in Biloxi where I decided my fortune would be made. I bought two $5 Mississippi Blues scratch-offs at a Shell gas station. I won $10 on the first card and a free scratch-off on the second. And because I’m a responsible young man with my whole life ahead of me, I decided the best investment was three more Mississippi Blues scratch-offs. I won nothing, which means I will continue working at AL.com in earnest – until at least the weekend when the first Mississippi Lottery balls will be drawn. I have two tickets.
Good luck and thank god for broken Mississippi.
In case you are the serious-type: Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger tells you how to play the lottery here and makes sure you know there are nearly 1,350 retailers who are playing along.
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Lottery exceeding expectations in Mississippi, thus far
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Through a little more than two months of operation, Mississippi’s lottery has generated about $16 million in revenue for work on the state’s roads and bridges.
Thomas Shaheen, president of the Mississippi Lottery Corporation, speaking at a legislative hearing, recently estimated that during its first full fiscal year the lottery would generate $81 million in revenue for the state.
“We are very pleased with these early results,” Shaheen said recently. “Retailer and player support have been fantastic in our collective efforts to raise money for roads, bridges and education needs for the state of Mississippi.”
The Legislature approved the lottery during a 2018 August special session with the first $80 million in revenue to the state from the games earmarked for road and bridge needs on Mississippi highways. Any revenue generated more than $80 million will be directed to education.
There was skepticism at the time of how much revenue a lottery would generate in Mississippi since the state was one of the last in the nation to approve a lottery, The states remaining without a lottery are Alabama, Alaska Utah, Nevada and Hawaii.
Shaheen told legislators that lottery sales are exceeding expectations. The lottery began on Nov. 25 with four scratch-off games. Now there are 16 scratch-off games. Powerball and Mega Millions – national drawing games – began Jan. 30.
The state is averaging about $10 million weekly in sales – making Mississippi sixth in the nation per capita in scratch-off sales.
There are almost 1,550 retailers across the state selling lottery tickets. In response to a question from legislators, Shaheen said that the state’s lottery laws do not prevent liquor stores from selling lottery tickets, but that laws regulating the liquor stores do prohibit them from participating.
The Lottery Corporation, created to oversee the lottery, currently is returning 58 percent of the money generated from sales to the customers as winnings. Shaheen said that is less that the national average and less than what the surrounding states are returning as winnings. The contiguous states are returning as much as 65 percent of their sales as winnings. As the Mississippi lottery matures, the goal will be to increase the percentage returned as winnings, officials said.
State law limits administrative costs at 15 percent of the total revenue. But that limit does not apply during the early stages of establishing a lottery since the Lottery Corporation had to take out a loan to begin operation. No state funds were allocated for the start-up costs. Shaheen said administrative costs currently are about 18 percent of sales.
Mississippi’s embrace of the lottery has been quick despite opposition from various religious groups.
During the 2016 session, then-Gov. Phil Bryant voiced his opposition to the lottery. But during the political speakings at the annual Neshoba County Fair in the summer of 2016, then-Attorney General Jim Hood, who would become the eventual Democratic nominee for governor in 2019, touted the lottery as a method to address some of the state’s revenue issues.
But in Bryant’s 2017 State of the State speech in January, he embraced the lottery and in August 2018 called a special session to enact a lottery and other measures to provide funds for the state’s crumbling infrastructure system.
Many say those measures are not producing enough money to address those road and bridge woes that have been estimated at $400 million annually. But the special session did take the lottery, which was generally viewed as popular with voters, off the table as an election issue for Hood in his unsuccessful 2019 bid for governor.
While state leaders viewed the lottery as a method to generate revenue without raising taxes, others have said there are negative consequences associated with a lottery, such as siphoning disposable income from other items.
A 2017 study by the state’s University Research Center said, “The economic literature almost unanimously finds lotteries are regressive for those who play; that is, lower income individuals spend a larger percentage of their total income than higher income individuals. Moreover, surveys have found lottery participants in lower income brackets spend more total dollars per year on lottery purchases than participants in higher income brackets.”
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Lottery exceeding expectations in Mississippi, thus far
by Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today
February 13, 2020
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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor’s in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.
We believe that an informed Mississippi is a better Mississippi. We center readers in everything we do, informing–and engaging–Mississippians through reporting, podcasts, events and online communities.
Founded in 2016 as the state’s first nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom, Mississippi Today’s roots in Capitol coverage have grown to encompass a myriad of beats beyond politics and policy, including education, public health, justice, environment, equity, and, yes, sports.State lottery has generated about $16 million in revenue for work on the state’s roads and bridges ]]>