JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi House passed a bill Thursday that would legalize online sports betting, bringing the state one step closer to joining 29 other states that already allow the practice.
The Mississippi Mobile Sports Betting Act, which would legalize mobile sports betting while requiring gambling companies to contract with brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, passed by a vote of 97 to 14 after a brief debate on the House floor. Sports betting has been legal in the state for years, but online betting remains illegal amid concerns the move could hurt the bottom line of the state’s casinos.
Republican Rep. Casey Yore of Saucier, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the state could bring in $25-35 million a year in tax revenue, based on estimates by the state Gaming Commission. Mississippi is missing out on this money because it has one of the most active black markets in the country.
Every year, illegal betting sites across the United States see about $64 billion in bets, Yore said. Mississippi accounts for 5% of that market, or about $3 billion in illegal bets.
After the bill went before a House committee on Tuesday, lawmakers approved an amendment Ewer introduced at the session that would change where the revenue goes. The first version of the bill imposed a 12% tax on sports betting, sending 4% to the areas where the casino was located and 8% to the state. The revised version approved by lawmakers Thursday would direct all 12% to a state fund for emergency road and bridge repairs.
If Mississippi’s law passes, online gaming platforms would have to reach an agreement with licensed gambling establishments to establish an online sports betting presence in the state.
House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson of Natchez raised concerns that gambling platforms would have no incentive to partner with smaller casinos, and that most of the money would instead flow to already crowded casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He proposed an amendment that would ensure that licensed gaming establishments would absorb some revenue from bets placed near their facilities.
“The only people who make money are the two people who have a contract,” Johnson said. “The money that comes from the platforms, I bet in Mississippi, it doesn’t go to every casino in Mississippi. It goes to the casino that you have a contract with.
Republicans put forward the amendment, but Johnson voted for the bill anyway. He described potential legalization of mobile sports betting as “inevitable.”
Mississippi House lawmakers acted on the same day Georgia senators passed a bill to allow sports gambling. Nationally, 38 states allow sports betting. Some states only allow in-person bets, although most allow electronic betting from anywhere.
Mississippi’s bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.