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Senate Gaming Chair: Legalizing mobile sports betting ‘more complicated’ than people realize

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The efforts to legalize mobile sports betting in Mississippi appear to have hit a fork in the road with leaders in the casino industry showing no interest in giving residents a more convenient route to gamble on athletic events.

Last year, Governor Tate Reeves signed House Bill 606. The legislation, though initially intended to legalize mobile sports betting outright, was amended by lawmakers to create an 11-member committee to study everything about mobile sports betting and how it would impact Mississippi.

The committee released a full report on the matter but was promptly met with pushback from the casino industry. Concerns from casino administrators stemmed from the preconceived notion that legalizing sports betting would reduce the number of people who visit Mississippi casinos to place wagers in person, thus putting a burden on their revenue stream.

“The Mississippi gaming market operates on low margins. Anything that will reduce or lessen our revenues will harm our businesses and will harm Mississippi,” Island View Casino Resort task force representative Michael Bruffee told the committee last November. “To state it succinctly, statewide online sports betting will reduce our revenues, and it will harm Mississippi.”

Mississippi is one of 36 states that allows those 21 and older to gamble on athletic events in licensed casinos. In FY 2023, over $514 million in bets were made on games in sportsbooks in the state, generating nearly $61 million in total revenue and $5 million in taxes collected from the transactions.

Tennessee, a state with no casinos, generated nearly eight times more gaming revenue than the Magnolia State in 2023. While the Volunteer State lacks brick-and-mortar facilities, mobile sports betting is legal and accounted for nearly $4 billion in total bets, which generated $443 million in revenue and $83 million in taxes.

Senate Gaming Chair David Blount, who co-led the study committee, strongly believes that online sports betting would be a no-brainer for Mississippi if casinos did not have such a stronghold in the state, but the industry’s domineering presence poses challenges that the legislature is having to consider.

“I think if we didn’t have a casino industry in this state, we would have it right now, but the fact is we have tens of thousands of people who work in this business who depend on brick-and-mortar [facilities],” Blount said on The Gallo Show. “We have companies that have invested billions of dollars to grow our tourism, so it makes it a little more complicated than if we were a state with no casinos at all.”

The path forward to legalizing mobile sports betting will be a complicated one, according to Blount. However, he vows to continue to assess the process of allowing individuals in Mississippi to legally gamble on mobile devices despite uncertainty that any proposed legislation would be approved.

“Politically and policy-wise, it’s just a lot more complicated than I think a lot of people realize,” Blount said. “We’re still working on it. I don’t know what will happen, but we’re looking at it.”

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