Expansion of mobile sports gaming outside of casinos considered

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(The Center Square) — Expansion of mobile sports gaming outside of Mississippi casinos on Tuesday got a second meeting of the Mobile Online Betting Task Force.

Mississippi lawmakers on the panel are due Dec. 15 to report findings. Another meeting is Nov. 13.

Jay McDaniel, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, told lawmakers several issues need consideration when drafting potential legislation. Among them are a tax rate, distribution of proceeds, and whether to offer a referendum process to allow counties to opt out of mobile gaming.

Proceeds could continue to go to infrastructure, or elsewhere. The opt-out would be consistent with counties and alcohol sales.

Louisiana has several parishes that have opted out of the online sports gaming law via referendum.

He also said lawmakers would need to increase penalties to deter illegal operators from setting up shop.

McDaniel said some issues could be handled by the Gaming Commission, which regulates all gambling statewide. Geofencing, for example, is technology to enact geographic boundaries.

Jason Tosches told lawmakers, “We believe it is a meaningful opportunity to grow the state’s gaming industry, tax revenue and to ensure responsible gaming measures are in place to create a safe and trusted wagering environment.”

Tosches is director of Public Affairs and Government Relations at PENN Entertainment, Inc., one of the largest regional gaming operators nationally with 43 casinos and racetracks across 20 states. PENN operates casinos in Tunica, Vicksburg, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi and is partnering with sports network ESPN to rebrand its U.S. online sportsbooks as ESPN Bet.

Tosches said online gaming is legal in 29 states and that Mississippi is at a competitive disadvantage since its casinos are allowed to have sports books, but all bets are made on site.

West Virginia Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Wheeling, spoke on behalf of the National Council of Legislators From Gaming States. Twenty-six states are members. West Virginia’s three types of wagers are traditional sports, iGaming and iLottery.

Fluharty said since 2018, there has been a massive increase in the amount wagered online rather than in a traditional sports books in a casino. He used Louisiana as an example of how much (85%) sports wagers have switched to mobile devices. He said that trails the national average (93%), according to data from the council.

Fluharty said Mississippi, as a potential late adopter to mobile gaming, can use lessons learned from other states and won’t have to amend or rewrite legislation to fix issues.

One of those issues is mobile manipulation, where online influencers with possible insider knowledge can artificially drive up betting traffic and move betting lines. Fluharty says that becomes a consumer transparency and protection issue.

“A regulated market has been proven to work,” Fluharty said. “An unregulated market does not protect the consumer.”

Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee permit mobile wagering. Alabama prohibits both casinos and sports wagering.

The task force was created by House Bill 606, which was signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves in March. The group is examining issues with off-premises mobile sports wagers.

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