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BILL CRAWFORD: Casinos may get sports betting on the sly

BILL CRAWFORD

Speaking of doofuses, did you see Geoff Pender’s column entitled “Did legislative leadership really fall for sports-betting rope-a-dope?” Or the earlier Mississippi Today story entitled “Lawmakers: Didn’t think law would legalize sports betting?”

Lots of legislators are saying they didn’t know the bill they passed this year to tax fantasy sports betting may open the door for Mississippi casinos to offer and control Las Vegas style sports betting. Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn are saying that was not the intent of the law.

So who are the doofuses?  Legislators and state leaders for not knowing what they were doing? Or us, if we believe there was no skullduggery involved?

Consider this.

In early November, state Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson told legislators that sports betting could bring in an additional $88 million to $100 million if legalized and taxed on the state level.

On November 14th, Attorney General Jim Hood General joined with attorneys general from West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, and Wisconsin to support New Jersey’s Supreme Court appeal that would overturn the federal law that limits sports betting to Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana (though only Nevada and Delaware allow it).

On November 26th, the Biloxi Sun-Herald editorial board took the same position as Hood, “The federal government has correctly left it up to the states to decide whether to allow casino gambling. It should do the same for sports betting.”

In February and March of this year, the House (92 to 22) and Senate (46 to 6) passed the fantasy sports tax bill that opened the door to Las Vegas style sports betting. Bryant approved it on March 13th.

Biloxi Rep. Scott DeLano told the Sun-Herald on June 27th, “We did make modifications to Gaming Control Act that would allow for the Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting if it were ever to be overturned at the federal level.”

“It could be a game changer that could provide a huge injection of new investment similar to what we saw in the early 1990s (when dockside casinos were first legalized in Mississippi),” DeLano told Mississippi Today in July.

“If the Supreme Court clears the way, I think it would be a grave, grave mistake if we allowed other states to profit from sports betting,” Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport told the newspaper. “If we’re behind the 8-ball, it will be to the detriment and probably failure of the casino industry in Mississippi. This could save Mississippi’s casinos.”

“Save Mississippi casinos” is the telltale. Hard to imagine those in power weren’t knowingly acting on behalf of the casinos.

The great irony lost on us doofuses is we voted in 1992 to legalize the lottery, but we never voted to legalize casinos, fantasy sports betting, or even bingo parlors. These, and the pending Las Vegas style sports betting, are all products of our legislators and governors, most of whom say they are opposed to gambling.

The political reality is legislators tend to give casinos what they want, whether straight up or on the sly. Oh, and they don’t want a state lottery.

» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

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