ap lottery
Mississippi Lottery Corporation president Thomas Shaheen, left, helps Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, with the scratching of the ceremonial firs scratch-off ticket purchased from at a Jackson, Miss., convenience store, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi residents don’t have to leave the state to buy lottery tickets anymore.

Tickets went on sale Monday. The tickets are available in roughly 1,200 convenience stores and other sites.

Democratic state Rep. Alyce Clarke of Jackson has been pushing for years to bring a lottery to Mississippi. She bought a ceremonial first ticket at a RaceWay store and gas station in south Jackson.

“It feels great. Finally, it becomes a reality. And it just goes to show you what happens if you don’t give up,” Clarke said. “Sometimes you have to try and try and try again.”

For decades Mississippi was one of only six states without a lottery. There was strong opposition from politically powerful churches. People often drove to neighboring states such as Louisiana to buy tickets there.

 

But in 2018, lawmakers authorized a lottery as a way to finance road maintenance and infrastructure needs. At the time, the state had been forced to close hundreds of unsafe bridges. For the first ten years, the first $80 million a year from lottery revenue will go to infrastructure needs. After the $80 million benchmark is hit, the rest goes to education. After the ten year period is over, the first $80 million will go to the state’s general fund with the remainder continuing to go toward education.

Clarke had been pushing for all the money to go to education. She said she was disappointed that all the money wasn’t going to education but that the roads and bridges also needed investment.

Right now, people can play four different types of games, and the Mississippi Lottery Corporation plans to introduce new games in the coming weeks. On January 30, tickets for both Mega Millions and Powerball will go on sale. Winners can remain anonymous.

By 7 a.m. Monday morning — two hours after tickets went on sale — the state had made $300,000 from its share of the ticket sales, said Meg Addison, the lottery’s spokeswoman.

At the Stop & Go Foodmart in Picayune, owner Hiren Bhakta wasn’t yet selling tickets on Monday morning but was planning to have his terminal up and running by the end of the day.

He said people have been talking about the sales for weeks. In this corner of southwestern Mississippi, residents wanting to buy lottery tickets can easily pop across the border to towns in Louisiana like Pearl River and buy tickets there. Bhakta hopes that traffic will now stay in Mississippi.

“People have been going to the state lines to get tickets, so they’ve heard about it and are excited about how we don’t have to go to the state line anymore,” he said. “We can get everything here in Mississippi.”

At the A One Stop in Brookhaven, Mississippi, cashier Tonya McCalup said ticket sales have been going well. By around 8 a.m. Monday she’d had two customers purchase winning tickets — one for $32 and another for $2. She said she’s thinking about buying some tickets as well: “I’m going to start pressing my luck.”