Mississippi was the third state in which operators launched legal sportsbooks in brick-and-mortar form after the May 2018 fall of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. And for the second straight year, a lawmaker is asking his peers to consider allowing people to place bets on mobile devices rather than just in retail locations.
Democratic Representative Cedric Burnett filed HB 172 in January, and it is one of five gaming bills that have been referred to the House Gaming Committee and are awaiting a hearing. Two more similar bills were introduced regarding mobile sports wagering late Friday. Burnett’s bill would allow any of the state’s 24 bricks-and-mortar casinos to launch state-wide mobile sports betting and is similar to the state’s current retail sports betting law with one key exception — the tax rate for mobile would be lower than the 8% state tax on bricks-and-mortar sports betting.
The bill calls for a 6% tax on mobile sports betting, if gross gaming revenue is more than $134,000. That rate would be the lowest among states where sports wagering is legal.
MS leaving money on the table
The biggest knock on Mississippi since the first sportsbook opened in August 2018 is the lack of mobile — with a caveat that patrons on premises may make wagers via mobile devices — but not off premises. Operators in six states began offering live sports betting in 2018, and state-wide mobile is legal in four. Only Delaware and Mississippi don’t have a provision for internet sports betting. Betting handle in Mississippi in 2019 was about $370 million, resulting in $5.3 million in revenue to the state.
“Some people in the legislature want it, but I don’t get the feeling that you will something will come out,” said Allen Godfrey, chief of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “All it comes down to is the industry hasn’t agreed on the right product.”
Even if operators are still considering what might work best, they are in favor of being able to offer a mobile product, per a a recent story in the Sun-Herald.
“Yes, the mobile sports betting app would be a welcome addition,” vice president of marketing at Boomtown and Hollywood Gulf Coast casinos Monica Scott told the Sun-Herald. “Allowing bettors more in-game options, the ability to make their decisions and place bets faster as well as the ability to choose the level of interaction they prefer when placing a bet — ticket writer, kiosk or app.”
The Mississippi legislature adjourns on May 7, and lawmakers have until to March 3 to move a bill out of committee in its originating chamber.
Mississippi has little regional competition
As of now, Mississippi is nearly an island of live sports betting in the South — of its four border states, only Arkansas has live sports betting, and so far, that’s in-person at only one facility. Tennessee in 2019 legalized mobile-only sports betting, but the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation is still in the regulatory process and it’s unclear when operators will be permitted to launch. The TELC on Tuesday could vote to make permanent a set of proposed rules.
In neighboring Louisiana, which has had casino gaming for more than 20 years, lawmakers have been discussing sports betting for two years but have been unable to get it out of committee. The Louisiana state legislature opens April 9, but when it does, sports betting champion Danny Martiny won’t be there to carry the torch.
Alabama is among a handful of states that has not taken up sports betting.