A lot of people complain that casino gambling revenue is not directed solely to fund education as was promised when the Mississippi Legislature approved gaming in 1990.
That argument might have some merit, but by the same token it would not be true to say Mississippi casinos have not helped fund the state’s education system.
The issue is pertinent because of the growing chorus, led by Republican Gov. Phi Bryant, for Mississippi to enact a lottery. Mississippi is one of only six states without a lottery.
Many believe lottery revenue could at least partially offset the sluggish revenue collections the state has been dealing with for more than a year resulting in the elimination of programs and the layoff of some state employees.
Some argue lottery revenue should be directed to education or perhaps to the state’s transportation needs.
Bryant has argued that any revenue derived from a lottery should be deposited in the general fund and divvied up by the Legislature in the same manner other general fund revenue is appropriated
That is what legislators decided to do with casino gambling revenue in the 1990s.
It is projected that the state will collect $135.2 million from the 8 percent tax on casino earnings for the current fiscal year. It collected $133.8 million for the previous fiscal year.
While the revenue is not dedicated solely to education, that does not mean that education does not receive the bulk of the casino money. Generally speaking, education, including kindergarten through 12th grade schools, the universities and community colleges, receive about 60 percent of the total general fund revenue. That means education receives the same percentage of the casino revenue.
The rest of the money goes to programs like Medicaid, the Department of Public Safety, Corrections and others.
The truth be known, gambling revenue is only a small percentage of the general fund revenue. For the current fiscal year, projected casino revenue of $135.2 million would account for less than 2.5 percent of the total general fund.
The big contributors to the general fund are general taxes, such as the 7 percent tax on retail items, a projected 37.7 percent of the total, and the tax on income, both personal and corporate account for an estimated 43.3 percent of the total.
It is projected that a lottery would generate less revenue for the state than does casino gambling.
In other words, the lottery would help, but it would not be the solution to the state’s budget woes that many seem to think it would be.
Still, there is no denying a million here and a million there would help.
There was a time when the casino industry had a much larger impact on the state’s revenue collections.
In the 1990s, the state, for one of the rare times in its history, experienced multiple years or double digit or near double digit growth in revenue collections year over year. That was due primarily, most economists agree, to the rapid and unexpected growth in the casino industry after gambling was approved by legislators.
With casinos being built rapidly along the Mississippi River and on the Gulf Coast, which are the only locations where state-regulated casinos are allowed in Mississippi, the state quickly became one of the nation’s largest gambling destinations.
In the 2000s, casino revenue grew to more than $190 million and accounted for nearly 5 percent of the total general fund revenue. Casino revenue began to drop, though, as more states approved gambling, resulting in fewer people traveling to Mississippi casinos.
Casino revenue appears to have leveled off in recent years and even might be growing some.
The bottom line is that casinos help fund the state of Mississippi government, but are not a major revenue source.
The lottery will not be either.