Mississippi’s gamble pays off; Supreme Court strikes down sports betting ban

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AP 2015 file photo by John Locher

Odds are displayed on a screen at a sports book at CG Technology in Las Vegas. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows casino betting on sports in Mississippi and other states.

Mississippi is ready to implement sports betting after a United States Supreme Court ruling issued on Monday.

The nation’s highest court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which effectively outlawed sports betting nationwide except for Nevada.

Mississippi was one of five states that officially joined New Jersey’s effort to have the case heard by the Supreme Court, and the state has spent months checking off boxes to ensure sports betting could begin in Mississippi within the coming days.

“Should the Supreme Court issue a favorable ruling, the Mississippi Gaming Commission will be ready to address sports gambling,” Allen Godfrey, executive director of the commission, told Mississippi Today in December. “The time would be determined more by how long it takes the operators to get ready to offer it as a regulated game.”

Reached for a quick comment on Monday morning, Godfrey said the Gaming Commission is “in the process of compiling regulations and will hopefully put them out for public comment as soon as possible.”

In a state in which revenue collections – and particularly casino gaming revenues – have dragged in recent months, sports betting is seen by many to be a potential economic boon.

Last fiscal year, the state collected $255 million in gaming revenues — down from $344 million, which the state collected in 2008. It is unclear how much Mississippi could collect annually from sports betting, but many state officials think it could be “a game changer” for the state.

Mississippi Today

Former state Sen. Sean Tindell

“If the Supreme Court clears the way, I think it would be a grave, grave mistake if we allowed other states to profit from sports betting,” said former state Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, in 2017. “If we’re behind the 8-ball, it will be to the detriment and probably failure of the casino industry in Mississippi. This could save Mississippi’s casinos.”

“It could be a game changer that could provide a huge injection of new investment similar to what we saw in the early 1990s (when dockside casinos were legalized in Mississippi),” said state Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi.

Mississippi lawmakers have already tweaked state law to open the door for an immediate implementation of the game. Some have argued that they didn’t realize that was the intention of changes made to the state’s gaming laws.

In the 2017 session, the Legislature passed House Bill 967, which legalized sports fantasy betting in the state but also slipped in language that would legalize sports betting in Mississippi casinos if the federal ban were lifted.

Sponsors of that law never used the words “sports betting” in the bill’s language or while explaining the bill on the House and Senate floors. When Mississippi Today identified the sports betting loophole created by the fantasy sports gaming law, lawmakers and legislative leaders denied having prior knowledge.

“We did not see (House Bill 967) in the same light as sports betting,” said Tindell, who defended the bill in the Senate and was the main author on the identical Senate version. Tindell was later appointed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals by Gov. Phil Bryant.

“We knew there was a federal law that prohibited sports betting but allowed fantasy sports gaming,” Tindell said. “We weren’t concerned with sports betting then because we knew federal law would trump anything we could pass.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Baptist deacon who “has always been opposed to gambling,” according to his spokesperson, signed the bill. Bryant, who told Mississippi Today last year he opposes sports betting, signed it into law.

Laura Hipp, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, issued this statement last year: “Obviously, the original intent of HB 967 was to provide a legal framework for fantasy sports in Mississippi and the lieutenant governor supported that effort. As is often the case, different lawyers have different interpretations on whether the changes made, whether intentional or not, have any implications on other types of gaming in our State.

“We are monitoring the actions of appropriate regulatory agencies and the Attorney General to see if any further clarification may be needed,” Hipp added.