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Earlier this year, Mississippi passed a law regarding daily fantasy sports, replacing a sunsetting law passed in 2016. Well afterwards came the revelation that that law also appeared to lift the state’s prohibition on sports betting, if federal law allowed.
State media started paying attention in the wake of the New Jersey sports betting appeal being taken up by the US Supreme Court, creating the prospect that other states could follow New Jersey’s lead. That the fantasy law included a change to the state’s gaming statutes as it relates to sports betting was first reported by the Sun Herald.
Committee chairmen and legislators who pushed the bill interviewed this week maintain the bill’s intent was never to legalize sports betting.
“The intent of this bill absolutely had nothing to do with sports betting,” said Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, a co-sponsor of the bill who handled it on the House floor. “The 2017 bill put in place consumer protection pieces and regulations to prevent businesses from taking advantage of our constituents for fantasy sports. That’s it.”
DeLano had earlier told the Sun Herald the law “would allow for the Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting,” with a change to federal law.
Then the Clarion-Ledger advanced the story, reporting that there “may be some legal debate on whether the bill does clear sports betting on the state level, and the Legislature might revisit the issue.”
No matter what the intent of the bill, it appears the sports betting debate has jump-started in the state.
The seemingly innocuous passage in the fantasy sports bill has spurred talk in all corners of the Mississippi government, up to the governor’s office.
If Mississippi was going to have legal sports gambling, it appeared likely the state legislature would have to come back and pass regulations or authorize the state gaming commission to do it, anyway. The fantasy sports law and chatter in the state offers an obvious entry point for talking about sports betting in a state that already has casinos.
The revelation that lawmakers passed something they weren’t aware of doesn’t necessarily equate to opposition to sports wagering.
Mississippi is poised to be a first-mover on sports betting should New Jersey win its case. It had already been a state where the conversation had started, even before the NJ case headed to SCOTUS.
Connecticut already passed a law setting up regulations for sports betting in that event.
Lawmakers can certainly slow down on legalizing and regulating sports betting. But estimates already place the amount Americans wager at illegal offshore online sportsbooks in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Any state looking to leverage a possible change in federal sports betting law would be smart to do so sooner rather than later.