Southern States Set For Sports-Betting Spotlight As Legislatures Return

January 11, 2022
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Three state legislatures with a history of mixed results when it comes to passing gaming legislation will try again this year to approve bills ranging in scope from state-wide mobile sports betting, to creating a state lottery and casino industry.

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Three state legislatures with a history of mixed results when it comes to passing gaming legislation will try again this year to approve bills ranging in scope from state-wide mobile sports betting, to creating a state lottery and casino industry.

In Mississippi, Democratic Representative Cedric Burnett introduced a bill last week to legalize mobile sports-betting across the state. Burnett’s bill is similar to attempts over the last two years to get lawmakers to approve mobile wagering.

Three online sports-betting bills — two in the Senate and one in the House — died early in the 2021 session as lawmakers were unable to agree on how to legalize mobile sports betting and legislation was never taken up in committee.

Although the Magnolia State was one of the first to regulate sports wagering after the overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May 2018, based on language in Mississippi's initial casino statute, lawmakers and the state’s 26 casinos have since struggled to get a mobile wagering bill through the legislature.

“If it does not pass this year, it will be unlikely to pass in 2023 because that is an election year,” said Thomas Shepherd III, an attorney and partner with Jones Walker in Jackson.

Currently, only retail sports wagering and on-property mobile bets are legal in Mississippi.

“Obviously, there is interest in mobile sports betting,” said Jay McDaniel, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “We have to be ready to regulate it should the legislature pass a bill.”

McDaniel said he does not anticipate a long wait for the commission to approve regulations should lawmakers legalize mobile wagering but it does depend on what is in the bill.

The push to legalize mobile in this session comes as Tennessee’s eight mobile sportsbooks, on the state’s northern border, posted handle of almost $2.4bn and gross revenue of $215m in the year through November. Sports-betting handle in Mississippi, in contrast, was $529m with revenue of $62.6m over the same 11-month period.

Mississippi Sports Betting Revenue

There is also an urgency to legalize mobile wagering with neighboring Louisiana expected to launch mobile wagering on Saturday after its retail launch in November.

Arkansas, another western neighbor, is also preparing to enter the online sports-betting market.

“I doubt that any Louisiana experience with mobile wagering will affect the Mississippi legislature one way or another; however, I am sure Mississippi casinos and legislators are and will be concerned about the loss of revenue from gamblers from Louisiana coming to Mississippi to place sports wagers,” Shepherd said.

Burnett's House Bill 184 would allow any licensed casino in the state the right to launch a mobile sportsbook. The bill also allows for wagers on collegiate, amateur or professional sporting events, including esports, or any other event or competition authorized by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

According to the bill, monthly online sports-betting revenue would be taxed on the same sliding scale of 4 to 8 percent that applies to traditional casino revenue in Mississippi.

The bill has been referred to the House Gaming and Ways and Means Committees. Burnett, who is a member of the House Gaming Committee, did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

The legislature in Mississippi began its 2022 session on Monday and will recess on April 3. However, all bills have to be passed out of committee in their chamber of origin by February 1.

Another Round In Alabama

To Mississippi's east, gaming supporters in Alabama got close to passing an expanded gambling measure last year for the first time in decades and will try again during the 2022 legislative session that starts on Tuesday.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill to create a state lottery and legalize casinos, Class III tribal gaming and mobile sports wagering. But the bill failed to garner enough support in the House before lawmakers wrapped up the 2021 session last May.

Republican state Senator Greg Albritton plans to reintroduce gaming legislation in Montgomery and hopes this session will be different from last year’s when there was strong opposition to where casinos were to be located and lawmakers from some areas that felt left out of the process were able to block the bill.

Albritton said this year’s effort will involve a two-tier approach.

First, lawmakers would create a state commission to regulate the limited racing and bingo gaming that already exists in Alabama and then voters would get a chance in November to approve a constitutional amendment legalizing sports betting, a state lottery and casinos.

Rather than designate where gaming could be located, applicants would petition the gaming commission for a license and approved site. They would also have to receive approval from local officials, a step Albritton told FOX 10 in Mobile would be “a way to protect areas that don’t want gambling.”

Last week, the Alabama Track Owners Association (ATOA) launched a state-wide advertising campaign comparing the tax and jobs impact of casino gaming to a new auto plant.

The ad claims Alabama spent $700m to create 4,000 jobs at an auto manufacturing plant, while it could generate that much every year from legalized gaming and create 12,000 jobs.

“The equivalent of three auto manufacturing plants, if they just let us vote on a gaming and lottery bill this November,” the announcer says.

The ATOA is asking Alabama residents to contact their representatives and urge them to pass a comprehensive gaming and lottery bill during the session. Lawmakers must pass a bill before the session ends on April 28 to place the issue on the November ballot.

Elsewhere, sports betting and potentially casinos will also be on the legislative agenda in the coming weeks in Georgia, as various southern states come into focus for gambling expansion in 2022.

In Kentucky, Republican state Representative Adam Koenig has led an unsuccessful effort over the last three years to legalize sports betting in the Bluegrass State. Last year, House Bill 241 died in committee during a short, 30-day session.

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear supports legalizing sports betting, but he faces a tough re-election campaign this year and Koenig has fallen short of gaining enough Republican support to get a bill passed.

Sports betting in 2021 took a back seat to lawmakers approving and Beshear signing legislation aimed at protecting the state’s historic horseracing industry.

Koenig plans to introduce another bill during the 2022 session that would regulate both retail and mobile wagering. The session began on January 5 and is scheduled to adjourn on April 14.

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