By: Sid Salter
Mississippians have been talking about a state lottery for more than 25 years and still don’t have one – a decision that studies and industry estimates claim keeps between $100 million to $150 million out of the state’s general fund revenues and continues to send state taxpayers across state lines to buy lottery tickets in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida.
Most recently, state government leaders have been debating enacting a state lottery as a means of funding the states growing infrastructure needs. Many observers still anticipate a special legislative session to address infrastructure concerns and a lottery proposal may well be intertwined in that effort.
But with the lottery still mired in political limbo, Mississippi could well be poised to be in the sports betting business within months. In 2017, Mississippi lawmakers passed a law legalizing sports betting within the state’s existing casinos if federal laws allowed it. The U.S. Supreme Court removed the final federal legal hurdle to sports betting in Mississippi when it ruled on Monday to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that had kept states from drafting their own sports betting regulations.
Prior to the high court decision, only Nevada operated a mature market for sports betting operations and has done so since 1949 – hence the term “Vegas line” for odds on sporting events. New Jersey and Delaware have positioned themselves through legislation and litigation to quickly enter the sports book markets most quickly.
There is another group of states – Mississippi, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – that have adopted sports betting legislation that only needed the favorable Supreme Court decision to trigger a swift move to a functioning sports book.
Twelve other states are moving toward enacting sports betting legislation. But Mississippi is the only state in the traditional Southeastern Conference footprint that will be in the sports betting business soon. Not Alabama. Not Arkansas. Not Louisiana. Not Tennessee. Not Georgia or Florida. Not Louisiana. Not Texas.
The fact is that Mississippi and Alabama are the only two states in that SEC footprint that are not in the state lottery business. Mississippi pays the price as we watch our taxpayers stream to state-line lottery tickets destination every time there’s a large PowerBall or MegaMillions jackpot – spending dollars that could have been in Mississippi’s coffers rather than those of our neighboring states.
But in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Mississippi is poised to hold a major advantage in the sports betting book as the only place in the South to legally engage in sports betting – and activity that has always drawn wide participation as an illegal activity. The NCAA rivalry games in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conference alone will be a huge, huge draw. The NFL, NBA, and the rest of the professional leagues will also attract gamblers.
Saints v. Falcons. Alabama v. Auburn. State v. Ole Miss. George v. Florida. The matchups are endless. And think about March Madness? Instead of an office pool bracket, wide open sports book operations in casino settings.
The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans wager $150 billion annually on sporting events, but that only just under $5 billion of that figure is wagered legally in Las Vegas. The potential quick expansion of sports betting has casino operators salivating. There is potential, at least in the short term, for Mississippi to benefit far more from the legal sports book than from a lottery.
On the flip side of this issue, the NCAA, major athletic conferences, and individual universities are worried about the very real concerns about the potential integrity and NCAA compliance issues that a monumental expansion of sports betting would visit on college sports.
Lottery opponents may also use the Supreme Court decision to try to torpedo the political momentum that the lottery had seemed to enjoy in the state over the last two years.
Regardless, the high court decision on sports betting also returns to square one of the entire subject of casino gaming in Mississippi – the fact that the Legislature didn’t make a particularly good deal when setting the state’s percentage of the “take” from gaming when compared with other states.