A daily fantasy sports bill in Mississippi faces an uncertain future, as the legislation has been changed drastically in the past month, including the addition of a provision to authorize a state lottery.
That has complicated the path forward in Mississippi, a state where the attorney general has opined that daily fantasy sports is illegal under state law, and where DraftKings and FanDuel no longer take customers.
DFS legislation and Mississippi: the basics
At one point recently in Mississippi, it looked like legislation that would explicitly legalize daily fantasy sports had a smooth road to becoming law — on March 2, the “Fantasy Contest Act” passed the Senate by an overwhelming 48-3 vote.
That bill was largely based on the template that the industry floats in front of state legislatures. The legislation — SB 2541 — also passed the House this week by a vote of 83-37.
The only problem? The House version was changed from the Senate version so much that they aren’t even the same bill.
The Senate version
The bill that passed the Senate was fairly standard fare for fantasy sports regulation efforts. Much like bills that became law in Indiana and Virginia, the Senate version included a barrier to entry for operators:
The annual registration fee is Thirty Thousand Dollars ($30,000.00), or five percent (5%) of the total amount of entry fees collected by a contest operator from the operation of fantasy contests in this state less the amount of cash or cash equivalents paid to contest participants, whichever may be greater.
Still, DFS would have at least been explicitly legal, and it would have provided an easy path for DraftKings and FanDuel to re-enter the market. You can see the Senate version here.
The House version
That bill, however, didn’t really survive in the House. While the bill number is the same, in committee it was gutted by a “strike-all” amendment — the equivalent of rewriting the bill from scratch.
The House version does not regulate DFS; instead, it creates a study of fantasy sports. From the bill:
The Fantasy Contest Gaming Study Committee is created. This committee shall study fantasy contests in the State of Mississippi, which the Legislature finds are properly regulated by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
You can read the whole amended House version here.
Then, the lottery gets involved
On the House floor, the bill was amended even further, creating a lottery in Mississippi. That provision appears has a hand-written amendment here.
What Mississippi’s legislature is left with, essentially, is two very different bills that have little to do with one another.
The Associated Press reported on the legislation and the House vote to establish a lottery; it appears the lottery provision will not survive:
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the lottery proposals will be dead on arrival in the Senate.
“I don’t think there’s any appetite in the Senate for a lottery,” Fillingane said Tuesday after the House votes. “I’m betting against it.”
So what’s all that mean for the core bill passed by the Senate, and the chances of seeing DFS regulation?
The path forward for the DFS bill
The bill appears to be headed to a conference committee, in which members of the House and Senate would meet to work out differences in the bill.
Usually such a committee would just have to iron out relatively small differences between bills passed by both chambers; in this case, however, they would be working from two different bills. The Senate passed a fantasy sports bill, and the House passed a lottery bill.
Conference committees in Mississippi have relatively wide powers. The rules of the legislature include a provision for handling exactly the situation that arose here:
24. Only matters in disagreement between the two (2) houses are subject to consideration by conference committee. However, when one (1) house strikes out of a bill all after the enacting clause and inserts new text as an amendment thereto, the conferees may disregard the text of the original bill and of the amendment and may exercise wide discretion in the incorporation of germane new text.
That appears to mean the committee can do just about anything it wants with the bill; it the conference committee can agree on new language, it would have to be approved by the legislature.
So, since the lottery provision seems to be out, the question is: Is it possible that the committee will agree to the Senate version regulating DFS? That’s an open question. It’s also within the realm of possibility the bill just dies on the vine.
Time is short in Mississippi to get something done; the legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 24. Whatever the statehouse does will have a major impact on the future of DFS in the state.
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