Several readers have asked questions since Tuesday’s news story that reported the Mississippi Gaming Commission is ready to regulate casino sports betting should the U.S. Supreme Court clear the way next spring. A law passed by the Legislature earlier this years allows Mississippi casinos to play.
Today, I’ll answer some:
Q: House Bill 967, the one that would legalize sports betting, was passed last spring. Why are we just now hearing about it?
A: Because the term “sports betting” never was mentioned in a bill that most people thought was merely putting fantasy sports gambling under the purview of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The bill slightly revised the state’s Gaming Control Act, taking out the wording that made sports betting illegal.
Q. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives and the Senate. So you are saying some senators and representatives never knew exactly what they were voting to do?
A. No doubt about that. I’ve talked to some who did not.
Q. So, there’s a chance the Legislature could come back next session and change the law?
A. Sure, there’s always a chance. But the Legislature also is trying to figure out how to fix crumbling roads and bridges, properly fund our schools and provide health care. A tax on sports gambling in casinos could be a huge revenue source. It’s always harder to put a cat back in the bag after it was let out.
Q. What are the chances the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the federal law that bans legal sports betting in virtually all states but Nevada?
A. You mean what are the odds? Honestly, I make legalized sports wagering a narrow favorite. As Attorney General Jim Hood pointed out, it is essentially a states’ rights issue. The nation’s highest court has swung back from federalism toward states’ rights in recent years.
Q. Gov. Phil Bryant said in the story that the negative consequences of sports gambling, particularly on college sports, should be obvious to everyone. Do you know what he was talking about?
A. I have an idea he was talking about increased exposure of college athletes to sports betting. There always has been a fear of athletes betting on their own games or taking bribes to shave points for big gamblers.
Q. Is that a valid concern?
A. Certainly it’s a concern, but it would be a much bigger concern if Mississippians weren’t already betting millions upon millions of dollars illegally with bookies or legally via the Internet with off-shore betting companies.
Q. How long do you think it would take casinos to be up and running with sports betting should the Supreme Court strike down the federal law that bans it?
A. Not long. Many casinos are owned by Las Vegas-based companies already well-schooled at sports betting. You can bet others are doing their homework.
Q. What’s your opinion on this? Would this be bad or good for the state?
A. This is my strictly my opinion, not that of Mississippi Today or anyone else: I can’t for the life of me understand why we would continue to turn our backs on a lottery for education, yet there is a possibility of sports gambling. So many things I don’t understand about what our state leaders do.
But I do know that we need revenue and we need it badly. I drive the ragged roads, and I read about the state laying off workers in critical positions. I read about colleges and junior colleges raising tuition and laying off professors and staff. I know we rank last in education. I read about hospitals closing and the massive cuts to mental health care.
We need revenue. Lots of it.
The fact is, people bet. People bet a lot. Currently, Mississippians do it illegally through bookies or through on-line, off-shore betting companies. Strangely, to me, there’s no tax on that.
That’s just the way it is. It goes on and it is not regulated and the state makes nothing off it.
In my opinion, we should regulate it, tax it and steer the money toward education or infrastructure or health care or all the above.
It goes on now, as Revenue Commissoner Herb Frierson put it “with a wink and a nod” and the state makes nothing. In my opinion, any reasonable person would say that makes no sense or dollars, none at all.