Mississippi Proposes Law To Prohibit Betting On Sports

Mississippi Proposes Law To Prohibit Betting On SportsAt a time when the future of (voluntary) nation-wide legalization of sports betting seems increasingly likely, one of what was heretofore among the practice’s strongest proponents has apparently made an about-face on the issue.

Mississippi’s state legislature, which convened its 2018 session on Jan. 2, appears to have not only taken steps to reverse its stance on legalizing sports betting with a new bill that just dropped earlier this week. The Magnolia state’s lawmakers are also seemingly taking a stand contrary to most other states with which it had found common ground – that being the related doctrines of Individual Sovereignty/States’ Rights as much as the practical benefit of extracting extra revenues from the mega-profitable sports betting market. It should be pointed out that Mississippians are estimated to bet on sports by the millions, meaning that the possibly hundreds of millions of dollars money spent when they place wagers and all the income tax they should be paying on winnings is denied to the state coffers.

At any rate, House Bill 1113 (H 1113) is already drawing a ton of media coverage, local interest and committee discussion despite the fact that the prospective law popped up just a few days ago in the listing of proposed legislation put forward by state representatives. The language of the bill includes the passage “No wagering shall be allowed on the outcome of any athletic event, nor any matter to be determined during an athletic event, nor on the outcome of any event, which does not take place on the premises.” This language might seem superfluous at face value, as the act of sports betting is already illegal in the Magnolia State, but what could be construed as an ambiguous situation becomes a little clearer when we dig deeper into the reasoning behind the newly proposed House Bill 1113.

Amending Last Year’s Fantasy Sports Law

For starters, the main purpose behind the freshly minted prospective piece of legislation is to amend state law passed during the last legislative session just about a year ago. Back in 2017, Mississippi lawmakers enacted a law impacting fantasy sports that also had the effect of removing the standing prohibition on sports betting from the current state gaming statutes (in order to remove any possible barriers standing in the way of Daily Fantasy Sports). Presumably, this law – which, it should be noted, received a good deal of support in both houses and across the spectrum of political leanings in the heavily socially conservative Southern state – may have enabled sports betting “hawks” in the government to move forward more aggressively on regulation.

The effort put forth in this year’s legislative session would definitely be a step in the opposite direction. Undoing progress toward more freedoms for the state’s residents interested in wagering on sporting events would also have the result of preventing more revenue for the state itself by keeping sports betting in the shadows of the black market or relegated to legal offshore sportsbook sites like Bovada, BetOnline, SportsBetting or 5Dimes. What’s more, the push for the introduction of the proposed H 1113 appears to have been engineered by some of the lawmakers that voted for the good-for-betting DFS law from last year – evidently they voted without being aware of the possible ramifications the law could have on sports betting.

How Mississippi’s About-Face Could Impact U.S Supreme Court Case On PASPA

All these developments don’t exactly paint the rosiest picture of a betting-friendly decision to come out of New Jersey’s current case before the U.S. Supreme Court as to the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). New Jersey and other states (one of which used to be Mississippi) interested in cashing in on the revenues generated from a multi-billion-dollar U.S. sports wagering market have long contended that PASPA should be struck down on the basis that it treated different states differently in violation of the Equal Sovereignty doctrine. As it stands, PASPA prohibits betting on sports in all but four states – Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon – and that never sat well with the Garden State, which has the second-biggest conventional casino gambling industry after Las Vegas.

Mississippi’s consideration of a bill to remove language from the legal rolls could be a setback to the goal set forth by New Jersey’s case against PASPA (the case is officially called Christie vs. NCAA due to the collegiate athletics association’s staunch opposition to expansion of sports betting). The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision sometime in the early summer of 2018 if not before, but the exact time or date is not known at this time. Given the somewhat perplexing moves taken by sports betting’s former cheerleaders like Mississippi, the outcome of the case is even more uncertain than ever, though it’s our belief that all hope on the Magnolia State front isn’t lost just yet.

The Other Mississippi Sports Betting Related Bill

Another piece of proposed legislation related to sports betting has emerged at almost exactly the same time as H 1113, and that’s House Bill 1154 (H 1154). Although this prospective bill’s sole purpose is to create a panel to take a closer look at sports betting – and to gather ideas involving best practices for collecting the taxes generated by the practice – any neutral movement can at least be seen as something other than an attack on sports wagering. The language of the proposed bill is fairly short, merely laying out that the state of Mississippi’s gaming taxation study committee will report its findings to the House Committee on Gaming and the Senate Committee on Finance prior to the 2019 legislative regular session.

Basically what we’re looking at is a dual worst case/best case scenario: H 1154 pretty clearly illustrates that no action is going to be taken on furthering the cause of or the case for sports betting until the time lawmakers gather up in Jackson when the next legislative session rolls around. But it also shows that the state’s policy-makers are at least open to the idea that enabling Mississippi residents to have access to a legal option for wagering on sports could be good for the bottom line, and that’s not a bad thing no matter how you slice it.

What Does The Future Hold For Sports Betting In Mississippi?

We’ll conclude by saying that it’s hard to believe there isn’t a proposed bill designed to regulate sports betting isn’t waiting in the wings. There are two points of evidence in support of this opinion: first, the Magnolia State’s lawmakers did actually already pass a Daily Fantasy Sports law last year with language that explicitly opened up the door to eventual sports betting regulation, and second, we are only in the third week of the legislative session. Lawmakers have got until April 1 to make up their mind, and we highly doubt that we’re all about to get the “April Fools” routine run on us sports betting aficionados just for kicks.

Then there’s the issue of the money, and, more specifically, whose money, could be behind the push to include sports betting in Mississippi’s gambling retinue. The Magnolia State is home to a major branch of MGM Resorts International, one of the biggest and most successful names in the business, and one of the companies with a huge stake in any decision affecting casinos in Biloxi and elsewhere in the state. MGM Resorts International’s spokes-folks have already said as recently as late December of last year that the company is looking to the possibility of Mississippi, Michigan and Maryland all having an open and legal sports betting market.

MGM VP of Race and Sports Jay Rood said the firm would be “doing a disservice to [its] shareholders” if it wasn’t considering a future where legal sports betting was the norm. As in most things involving sports betting, if you follow the trends you’ll know where to bet for Mississippi sports betting, and we’re betting on full legalization this summer, Mississippi contrarians to the contrary.

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