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OUR VIEW: Online gaming in Mississippi a losing roll of the dice

A Mississippi college freshman sits in his fraternity house room, locked into his laptop computer. It doesn’t matter which school. But what does matter is he has a credit card and Internet access. Only he knows, but he’s playing online poker from an illegal offshore site.

Nationwide, casino gambling is growing. A recent report from the American Gaming Association shows three straight years of growth have brought gross revenues nationwide almost back to pre-recession levels.

Casino_rouletter_wheel-RGBOf course, there are more casinos in areas that did not have casinos in 2007, so much of that growth can be attributed to the industry casting a larger net. Now, that net is poised to explode to the Internet. Nevada has taken its gaming online. New Jersey and Delaware are likely next.

But much like the offshore casinos, what’s the regulation? Where are the laws that will keep Junior from gambling from his dorm room?

So what is the benefit of online gaming? First, even if it reduced traffic at the brick-and-mortar casinos, it would likely increase gross gaming revenue. Second, a regulated online casino would likely be more attractive to online gamblers than an overseas or illegal gaming site, thus, keeping Mississippi’s gaming dollars in Mississippi.

During the recent Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi, state lawmakers agreed that it’s difficult to pass legislation on “sin” issues. It’s just not going to happen in Mississippi, said one lawmaker.

States that enact online gaming will be allowed only to offer gaming with its borders. But one state has suggested offering access if you visit their brick-and-mortar facility – then you could gamble back in your home, even if you’re in another state. Imagine the black market for those access codes.

The alternative to that would be federal legislation, which is what many states would like to see.

But Congress also does not seem interested in passing legislation, preferring to leave the issue up to the states.

So, as lawmakers continue to stick their heads in the beach sand, the gaming industry will continue to evolve online into some form of life.

Is online gaming good for Mississippi? Probably not. The state population base may not be big enough to generate enough revenue to offset monies it would lose in tourism at the 30 casinos around the state.

However, until someone establishes the rules of the game, it might be too dangerous not to legalize online gaming.

Either way, it could be a losing bet.

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