All the experts will tell you it’s inevitable – but they just can’t tell you when it will happen.
In one of the hottest debates since gaming was legalized, the pros and cons of Internet gaming has been a key topic of discussion at the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi.
The 20th annual summit is the largest gathering of casino executives, officials, experts and venders outside of Las Vegas, and they all want to know the same thing – when will Internet gaming happen. And Mississippi interests want to know when it will happen in Mississippi.
“I’d be surprised if Mississippi ever legalizes online game,” said Dan McDaniel Jr. of Baker Donelson.
“From the perspective of the state, I don’t know if it’s going to be good or not,” he said. “If it lowers employment or causes casinos to close, that could be good for companies, but not for the state.”
In the last few days, Nevada started online gaming within its states lines. New Jersey and Delaware have passed legislation to begin online gaming. Delaware’s gaming will be part of its lottery enforcement and will be operated by the state.
Each state would operate gaming inside its borders, unless it works in unison with other states through an interstate compact, which is an issue within itself.
“The current leadership – the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House — are not for expanding gaming,” said state Rep. Richard Bennett, chairman of the House gaming committee. “It would be a hard sell, regardless of what my committee wants to do. I think you’d have to see a change in leadership before it will pass.”
But Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, who has introduced online gaming legislation in each of the last two sessions, feels this is an opportunity for Mississippi.
“I think Mississippi is missing the boat,” said Moak. “This is one of those things we can’t miss out on in our state.
“But it takes political courage and political will, and that will be difficult to do. When you’re moving any “sin” issue through the legislature it’s always tough to do.
“Sometimes it’s a hard road to get the Legislature to pass things. Next year will be the third year of the term, and people are getting itchy about what they pass because they’re only one year away from the elections.”
A similar scenario applies to Congress, which has chosen not to act on the issue ever since Justice Department ruled in 2011 that online gaming does not violate the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits sports betting over wires of communication.
“They’ve been talking about it in Congress for years, but I don’t think they have the will to do anything,” said Moak
If Congress does ever take up and pass the online gaming issue, it’s believed that it would come with an option where states could opt-out of the law. For Moak, the issue would be if it required states to opt-in, which would essentially be another vote on state legalization.
“I’m not for the opt-in clause,” said Moak. “The bottom line is that it would be difficult to opt-in”
Rep. Peter King of New York recently tried to push through legislation legalize online gaming, but limit it to poker. The bill was defeated.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Larry Lavender, director of government relations with Jones Walker. “Folks in the gaming industry will have to work together to put together their platform.”
And what about a lottery?
Here’s what state Rep. Richard Bennett, chairman of the House gaming committee says about the state’s stance on lotteries.
“A lot of people don’t realize that in 1992, there was a referendum for a lottery in Mississippi and it passed, and they amended the constitution. So it’s legal to have a lottery. We’re the only state with an amended constitution but without a lottery.
“What happened was the Baptist came out and said that if you broke down the vote, the referendum failed by two districts, and they wanted legislators to vote on the lottery like their constituents voted.
“It never came up in the Legislature. Ironically, that same year, the legislature came back and legalized casinos.
“We have a have a lottery; it’s just never been enacted.”