Mississippi’s Online Sports Betting Expansion Bill Dead For 2020

Posted on March 10, 2020 - Last Updated on March 20, 2020

Tennessee’s legal sportsbooks, if they ever actually get rolling, should be able to pull action from across a part of the state’s southern border. A Mississippi online betting bill, which might have threatened that ability, is dead.

The bill didn’t survive an MS House committee’s ax on Thursday. Because of that, the threat it posed is at least delayed if not mitigated for good.

What was in the Mississippi online betting bill?

The bill, HB 172, would have legalized statewide online wagering in MS. Right now, online bets are only legal when a bettor is physically on the premises of a Mississippi casino.

Because of that, all MS casinos have foregone offering online wagering to patrons. Because bettors are physically on-site anyway, there is simply little reward for bearing the cost associated with such a platform.

Had the MS Legislature enacted this bill, online sportsbooks in the Magnolia State would have been a threat to TN sportsbooks’ bottom lines immediately upon launch. That would have especially been true if they went live first.

Because the bill is dead, TN averts that danger, at least for the time being. That gives regulators in the Volunteer State a bit more time to address their concerns.

What’s going on in TN with sports betting right now?

Currently, TN is in a standstill in regards to rolling out legal sports betting. That’s because the state is struggling to finalize its regulations for sportsbook operators.

On top of some issues with the proposed regulations, one of the pertinent ones is which party should regulate legal wagering moving forward. The state’s lottery is technically in charge right now, but some lawmakers would like to see the state government-appointed sports betting council take over.

The lottery’s board recently met with legislators on that and other issues. The lottery has another public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, at which it may make significant progress toward a final framework.

That isn’t a foregone conclusion right now, however. It may still be several weeks or even months before that’s done.

Although there’s no reason to fear Tennesseans crossing the border of MS to place online wagers there anytime soon, there is still a downside to these delays. It cuts into the ability for TN to put that shoe on the other foot.

Why time is still of the essence for TN sportsbooks

Now that betting in Mississippi is effectively limited to brick-and-mortar books for at least another year, Tennessee is on the clock. Every day that goes by without legal sportsbooks operating in TN, it represents lost revenue.

That’s especially true because when they do launch, they could pull action from MS residents coming across the border. Such bettors may find it more convenient to drive across the border and put down money with their phones in TN than drive to MS casinos.

Lawmakers in Mississippi could try this all again next year, so if legal books in Tennessee don’t start taking bets until late this year, the amount of time they can enjoy the benefits of that situation may be limited. Of course, there’s no guarantee that such an effort would be successful next year.

This decision by MS lawmakers is good news for TN’s future sportsbooks. To really enjoy it, however, the state needs to act quickly.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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