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Mississippi House passes bill to legalize online sports betting

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 Wagering Act, which would legalize mobile sports betting while requiring gambling companies to contract with brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, passed 97-14 after a brief debate on the House floor. Sports wagering has been legal in the state for years, but online betting has remained illegal amid fears the move could harm the bottom line of the state’s casinos.

Republican Rep. Casey Eure of Saucier, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the state could bring in $25-35 million a year in tax revenue, based on state Gaming Commission estimates. Mississippi is missing out on that money as it houses one of the nation’s most active black markets.

Across the U.S. each year, illegal betting sites see about $64 billion in wagers, Eure said. Mississippi makes up 5% of that market, which is about $3 billion in illegal bets.

After advancing the bill out of a House committee on Tuesday, lawmakers approved an amendment Eure introduced on the floor that would change where the revenue goes. The first version of the bill levied a 12% tax on sports wagers, sending 4% to the localities where a casino is located and 8% to the state. The amended version lawmakers passed Thursday would direct all 12% to a state fund for emergency road and bridge repairs.

If the Mississippi 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 most of the money would instead flow to the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s already bustling casinos. He proposed an amendment that would guarantee licensed gaming establishments would absorb some of the revenue from bets placed near their facilities.

“The only people making money are the two people that have a contract,” Johnson said. “The money from the platforms, you bet in Mississippi it doesn’t go to every casino in Mississippi. It goes to the casino that you have a contract with.”

Republicans tabled the amendment, but Johnson voted for the bill anyway. He called the potential legalization of mobile sports betting “inevitable.”

Mississippi House members acted on the same day Georgia senators passed a bill to allow in-person sports gambling. Nationwide, 38 states allow sports betting. Some states allow only in-person bets, although most allow electronic betting from anywhere.

The Mississippi bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

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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.

Michael Goldberg, The Associated Press



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