The state House on Thursday approved legislation to legalize mobile sports betting, putting Mississippi on track to join a growing number of states to legalize a form of remote gaming.
The measure passed the GOP-controlled House by 97-14, and it now heads to a Senate committee for consideration before becoming law.
House Gaming Committee Chairman Casey Eure, R-Saucier, said Mississippi could significantly reduce the number of illegal bets cast in the state if the Legislature enacts a legal remote betting program.
“It’s estimated that $64 billion was wagered on illegal sports bets across the United States last calendar year,” Eure said. “Mississippi makes up 5% of that market, which is $3 billion.”
Under the proposal, bettors would not have to physically visit a casino to register for sports betting. The entire registration process could happen remotely, as long as it was done in Mississippi.
In-person sports wagering and mobile fantasy sports have been legal in the state since 2018, but online betting has remained outlawed over worries the practice could erode casinos’ profits.
The House proposal would require online sportsbooks like DraftKings or FanDuel, called a “skin” or “platform,” to partner with a physical casino in Mississippi before allowing customers to participate in mobile betting. Betters, no matter where in the state they’re located, could choose which casino to use to place a bet.
The bill limits casinos to only partnering with one sportsbook platform, but platforms can partner with multiple Mississippi casinos simultaneously. Mississippi currently has 26 casinos, and Eure estimated that around 30 sportsbook companies exist.
Rep. Robert Johnson III, a Democrat from Natchez, raised concerns that smaller casinos such as Magnolia Bluffs in his district would face difficulties seeking a lucrative deal from platforms because larger casinos, such as the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino on the Coast, would have more leverage to negotiate a beneficial business deal.
Johnson, the House minority leader, aimed to protect the smaller casino markets by offering an amendment requiring casinos to receive profits from mobile wagers made within 40 miles of the casino, but Republicans defeated his efforts.
“I have a responsibility to make sure that I protect the jobs and the opportunities that are available in my community,” Johnson said.
The measure enacts a 12% tax on sports wagers. The proceeds from the tax will go toward repairing roads and bridges owned by counties and municipalities throughout the state.
A previous version of the proposal enacted a 12% tax on bets, but 4% of the proceeds went toward the county of the casino and 8% went to the state. But Eure, the bill’s author changed the tax structure to assuage concerns from lawmakers representing areas without casinos.
Eure, the bill’s author, estimated that Mississippi would generate between $25 million to $35 million in revenue during the first year if the state enacted a mobile sports betting program.
The House measure will now likely head to the Senate Gaming Committee for consideration. Eure said he is actively communicating with Senate leaders about the legislation, who have until April 2 to pass the measure out of a committee.
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