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Sports betting to be exclusive domain of casinos

By TED CARTER

Whatever shape Mississippi’s sport betting takes in its expected fall arrival, it’s a lock that enhancing the state’s visitor numbers and hospitality spending will be a main goal.

This goal puts Mississippi officials in harmony with a gaming sector eager for their casinos to become sports betting destinations. And as a major plus for the industry, anyone wanting to legally bet on sports will have to visit one of the state’s 28 casinos to do it.

A political benefit will also come into play: By confining sports wagering to the casino gaming floors, state officials can argue they aren’t expanding gambling.

That, at least, is the view of Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association. “We’ve got gaming,” he said. “This is just another type of gaming” on a gaming floor.

Regardless, there’s no legal leeway, Gregory said.

“The bottom line,” he said, is that the state’s Gaming Control Act states “any type of gaming in the state has to be conducted on the gaming floor.”

The tradeoff will be loss of potential tax revenue from money spent by people who want to place bets on their portable devices or at a corner sports betting parlor.

Mississippi puts a 12 percent tax on casino earnings from wagering, with 8 percent going into the state’s pocket and the remaining into local coffers. Those earnings totaled $2.1 billion last year, the state says.

Limits on how and where sports betting can occur could change, Gregory said, but the three-member Mississippi Gaming Commission will mold the new sports betting regulations from current law.

The May 14 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared states to legalize sports betting hardly surprised Mississippi and other states. The federal barriers to states did not make constitutional sense when Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon had sports betting, the states said.

In anticipation of the ruling, Mississippi legislators last year added wagering on sporting events to types of gambling allowed in casinos.

With that done, “the regulatory folks are building their regulatory frame work,” said Gregory, who joined the Gaming & Hospitality Association eight years ago after a career leading the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Not being “behind the eight ball” puts Mississippi “in a position to move forward on it,” Gregory said.

Building visitor numbers and adding to the dollars gamblers spend will be key, according to Gregory, whose association includes hospitality businesses such as hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions.

“The gaming industry had 22 million visitors last year. We want more visitors,” he said.

“We want to drive visitation. Offering something a little additional” will help do that

“That is what this is about,” Gregory added.

Mississippi is the lone Southern state with a statutory option in place for legal sports wagering. But expect that to change, with Louisiana and Florida acting quickly to establish sports betting, says Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Godfrey does not think it is far-fetched for Mississippi to debut its sports betting in time for professional and collegiate football in the fall. “It can be done in a timely manner,” he said.

In-game betting, Godfrey said, is unlikely for now. “We may get there but we are going to start off slow,” he said.

Other exclusions are likely as well, according to Godfrey. These will include “proposition” betting, or wagers on a specific occurrence or non-occurrence during a competition.

Just how much new money could Mississippi be looking at?

Godfrey emphasized it’s impossible to say. But he noted that in Nevada, the leading sports book state, sports gambling accounted for 4 percent of gaming revenues. If applied to Mississippi, that 4 percent would represent about $80 million in revenues for the industry. “Even if you just get $12 million” from the sports betting tax, “you get additional revenues from sales taxes from hotels and restaurants,” Godfrey said.

The Gaming & Hospitality Association’s Gregory, meanwhile, said the casinos plan to make their sports book venues destinations rather than a place for a quick stop to make a bet. He envisions music and other entertainment, rows of TVs and an atmosphere of comradery.

“I’ve gone to Vegas to those sports book paces,” Gregory said. “It’s a fun time… It’s a festive activity.”

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