Bill To Allow Gaming Classes Won't Survive Session - - The News for South Mississippi

Bill To Allow Gaming Classes Won't Survive Session

A House-passed bill that would allow Mississippi universities and two-year colleges to teach gaming courses won't be passed this session.

Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Terry Burton said the bill to end Mississippi's ban on such classes won't be brought up in his committee, in effect killing it.

"There is so much misunderstanding about what the bill does,'' said Burton, D-Newton. "I will not bring it up.''

House Bill 940 has been considered at the Capitol in recent years, often running into problems in the Senate, amid strong opposition from the Mississippi Baptist Convention and other church organizations. Such groups say it's wrong for public colleges and universities to use taxpayer dollars to teach gaming classes.

But "the bill keeps coming back,'' Burton said. Just including the word "gaming'' in the bill stirs up opposition, he said. Letting the bill die again is a big mistake, other senators say.

"We keep sticking our head in the sand,'' said Sen. Tommy Gollott, D-Biloxi, whose hometown is a haven for casinos, hotels and tourists. "It's a terrible thing that we can't teach these courses on the Gulf Coast,'' Gollott said Friday.

Gaming "is here to stay so we might as well teach the courses,'' Gollott said. "It's not related to roulette, dice or anything like that. ... We are teaching classes to better ourselves in the gaming industry.''

Leaders of the Mississippi Baptist Convention have voiced their opposition to the bill in recent weeks in publications such as The Baptist Record and through personal contacts with legislators.

"What you are doing is familiarizing students with an industry that can be quite devastating to their future,'' said Jimmy Porter, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention's Christian Action Commission. "Historically, Baptists have felt that too many people have been harmed by this industry.''

And Porter said the bill would utilize tax dollars to offer college classes for an industry that many believe should be doing it for itself.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention represents about 2,200 churches in Mississippi, with some 712,000 members.

Supporters of the bill say schools should be teaching gaming classes to assist one of the state's fast-growing industries.

"It's the craziest thing in the world that Mississippi cannot teach its citizens,'' said House Speaker Pro Tem Robert Clark, a supporter of the gaming classes bill. "Mississippi should teach its people the necessary skills for any jobs we offer in Mississippi.''

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