Mississippi senate committee keeps online sports betting bill alive

By Jill R. Dorson

On 2 April, Mississippi's senate gaming committee held a special two-minute meeting in an effort to keep a statewide mobile sports betting bill alive with about a month left in the legislative session.

During the meeting, committee chairman David Blount said that he had been told that “people have been talking” about the Mississippi sports betting bill HB 774 in an effort to reach consensus. He added that “if people are talking, that is a good thing and we want to let them continue to do that.”

The committee adopted a strike-all bill, which in this case updates the bill with codes used in the house. While it does not change any of the text, it does keep the online sports betting bill alive. The state legislature is scheduled to be in session until 5 May and HB 774 passed the house on 1 February. It was transmitted to the senate on 5 February and then assigned to the gaming committee on 27 February.

Tuesday was the final day for a committee to pass out a bill that did not originate in its chamber. Next Thursday, 11 April, is the deadline for the full senate to act on any non-revenue bills that originated in the house.

Mississippi sports betting was a first mover

Mississippi lawmakers were among the first to allow sports betting after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down in May 2018. However, they have been at an impasse regarding digital sports betting since then. Currently, bettors can wager at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. Some facilities have set up on-site mobile wagering, meaning that consumers can bet from just about anywhere on a casino resort property. This includes the pool area, restaurants or their rooms.

Blount said he was not privy to the specifics of negotiations on the bill. This is despite them having bipartisan support in the house. Mississippi lawmakers have tried several times to expand legalisation to include online betting, but have failed.

The latest version of a wagering proposal would allow for 26 licences. Each of these would be tethered to the state’s commercial casinos. Tax will also be set at a maximum of 12%. There is a sliding scale for tax revenue, so sportsbooks doing less business would pay at a lower rate.

But now the state is lagging

When the first wagers were being taken in Mississippi on 1 August 2018, the state was the only one in its region that had live legal sports betting. Since then, lawmakers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee have all made betting legal. All three states also offer statewide digital platforms.

Alabama is the only Mississippi border state that does not have legal sports betting and, despite efforts by the legislature there to pass a comprehensive package of gambling bills, it appears that the state might legalise lottery but nothing else.

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