Mississippi lottery, with new president in place could start by December; sports betting continues to grow

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Mississippi, one of only seven states to allow betting on sports events, will become the 45th state to offer a lottery as early as Dec. 1.

Revenue from both will go to the Mississippi Department of Transportation to deal with needs of the state highway system.

Gerald Gilbert, vice chairman of the Mississippi Lottery Corporation, said Wednesday the lottery board hopes to have scratch-off tickets available to sell to the public by Dec. 1. Other games, such as multi-state games, will be in operation by the first quarter of 2020, he predicted.

On Wednesday, the state Lottery Corporation Board, whose members were appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant, announced that it had named a president. Thomas Shaheen, who served as executive director of the North Carolina Education Lottery from its startup in 2006 until 2010, most recently was executive vice president and chief policy officer for a lottery technology company. He previously had served as president of the company that runs the Powerball, a popular multi-state game. He also was involved with lottery startups in Georgia, Texas and Florida.

According to a news release, Shaheen will earn a base salary of $225,000 and will be eligible for performance incentives.

“His history in the leadership of lotteries will help Mississippi establish our lottery quickly and successfully,” Gilbert said.

During a special session in August, the Mississippi Legislature approved a lottery with the first $80 million in revenue dedicated to the state’s beleaguered transportation system. Revenue beyond $80 million will go toward education.

Estimates have varied on how much revenue a lottery would generate in Mississippi, but most experts have said they believe it will be less than $100 million annually based on what has occurred in surrounding states.

During the same special session, the Legislature also dedicated revenue from sports betting to the state’s transportation system. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that federal law could not prohibit states from allowing betting on sporting events, Mississippi already had a law in place to allow casinos in the state – located along the Mississippi River and on the Gulf of Mexico – to offer sports betting.

Sports betting began in August at a handful of casinos and is now offered at most of the state’s 28 casinos.

According to the state Department of Revenue, through April of the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the state has received $25.4 million in revenue from bets on sporting events. Overall, casino revenue for the fiscal year is up $6.8 million or 6.3 percent.

Revenue from sports betting has grown rapidly in recent months from its modest beginnings in August when the state collected $54,000 in sports betting revenue.

Currently, no state in the deep South other than Mississippi allows betting on sporting events. But that might change. For instance, starting July 1 online sports betting will be legal in Tennessee.

In Mississippi, sports betting only is allowed in casinos. Other states also are considering legislation to legalize betting on sporting events.