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Mississippi regulators could approve sports betting rules

Mississippi gambling regulators are set to vote today on whether to approve final rules allowing sports betting, clearing the way for sports books to open in the state’s 28 casinos in July.

The state Gaming Commission has placed the rules on its agenda for consideration Thursday. Commission Executive Director Allen Godfrey said commission staff will propose some slight tweaks to the rules that were published for public comment in May.

If approved, the rules would take effect in 30 days. Some sports betting service providers, though, must be licensed by the commission before betting begins. Such service providers are already applying for licenses, Godfrey said. Equipment must also be tested, with tests approved by the state.

» READ MORE: TOMMY SHEPHERD — What has to happen before the first sports wager in Mississippi?

Mississippi changed its law in 2017 to allow sports betting as part of a bill legalizing and regulating fantasy sports. The U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states.

Unlike in some other states, Mississippi’s betting would be confined to casinos.

The state’s casinos, which boomed in the 1990s, have struggled with competition as gambling has spread. Casinos hope betting could give Mississippi gambling halls a competitive edge, at least for now. Betting itself is likely to produce less than $10 million a year in tax revenue for the state, but casinos hope it will attract customers who will spend on hotel rooms, restaurants and other gambling.

Casinos would pay state and local taxes worth 12 percent of the wagers minus the payouts. Mississippi casinos could take bets on any pro, college or Olympic sport, or any other proposition approved by regulators except political elections. But the commission will be able to veto types of wagers “contrary to the public policies of the state.”

Casinos could not take bets from coaches or participants, must report suspicious bets over $5,000, and cannot offer special bets or special odds to a single patron. Sports books are supposed to get detailed information on anyone betting or winning more than $10,000.

Three casinos run by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians plan their own sports books, but tribal leaders haven’t said when they will start. Those casinos aren’t regulated by the state, but Godfrey said he expects state and tribal rules will mesh “very closely.”

Only two people wrote in opposition to the proposed rules, including Kenny Digby, the executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s Christian Action Commission.

“Any gambling or lottery activity puts pressure on our churches and relief ministries to meet additional benevolence needs,” Digby wrote. “There will always be more losers than winners, if there are any winners.”

The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and golf’s PGA Tour all submitted comments seeking identical changes. They want casinos to be required “to immediately report” abnormal or suspicious bets to the relevant sports league, including bets that break the league’s own rules.

“Major League Baseball’s ability to identify and stop corruption is only as good as the information to which it has access,” that league wrote.

The leagues also want the ability to limit certain kinds of bets, with the commission having limited power to override the league’s wishes.

“As betting markets mature, sports pools are likely to offer more exotic bets, some of which may be inappropriate given the integrity concerns involved,” the NBA wrote.

Baseball teams also want to exclude bets on minor league baseball teams.

“We have smaller budgets, play in smaller stadiums, and do not pay our players and umpires Major League-sized contracts,” wrote representatives of Mississippi’s two minor league baseball teams, the Biloxi Shuckers and Mississippi Braves. “Our game is more vulnerable to the risks associated with increased sports betting.”

Godfrey said Mississippi plans to share data with sports leagues and others and had taken their concerns into account. However, he said staff members were not recommending all the changes sought by sports leagues.

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