Is Gaming Influencing Elected Officials?

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

Mississippi has the third largest gaming industry in the U.S. behind Nevada and New Jersey.

It has brought almost $4 billion in revenue into the state since its inception in the early 1990s. But is gaming influencing the state's elected office holders?

There's no doubt the gaming industry makes campaign contributions.
But when to those contributions cross the line between helping a candidate get elected and influencing how he or she does their job as a lawmaker?

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak has served 24 years in the state legislature and is sitting chairman on the house gaming committee.

According to campaign finance reports he's required to turn in to the Secretary of State's office, Moak has received several thousand dollars worth of donations from casinos and their employees, both in and out of state. Do these donations buy influence with Moak?

Rep. Earle Banks, who is vice-chair on that committee, says no.

"I think Bobby Moak has done a tremendous job in making sure that gaming does not take advantage of Mississippi or its citizens," said Banks, who represents Hinds County.

And Moak's records show that's definitely not the only place he receives donations. He's raised over $140,000 in his bid for re-election.

Moak sent this statement from his Bogue Chitto law office:
"The House Gaming Committee does not regulate the industry. We make policy. The Mississippi Gaming Commission regulates the casinos."

Still, with others, it raises red flags that the chairman of the House Gaming Committee receives any money from businesses he makes policy on for the state of Mississippi.

Common Cause of Mississippi is a non-profit group holding lawmakers accountable.

"This sort of action is not statesman-like or public servant action. This is a political action," said Dick Johnson of Common Cause of Mississippi.

The House Gaming Committee was created four years ago by House Speaker Billy McCoy.

Moak is seeking his thirteenth term as representative of District 53 in the Nov. 6 general election. He is opposed for re-election by Carl Mason of the Constitution Party.

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