There have been initiatives to legalize online poker Mississippi for the last four years, but gaining support for such legislation has been beyond difficult in the ‘Bible Belt’ state. According to Rep. Richard Bennett [R-Harrison], there is substantial support for other types of gambling reform, including the legalization of lottery sales and sports betting at area casinos.
Rep. Bennett has an insider’s view of the situation, being the Chairman of the Mississippi House Gaming Commission. As such, his influence towards gambling regulation is more powerful than most. But even Rep. Bennett holds no false hopes that online poker or casino games will become legalized anytime soon.
2014 Study of Internet Gaming & Sports Betting
Last year, Rep. Bennett called for a complete study on the legal, financial and technical aspects of internet gambling and sports betting. The result was the assemblage of the Internet Gaming and Sports Betting Task Force, with Allen Godfrey, Executive Director of the State Gaming Commission, leading the charge.
As Chairman, Rep. Bennett denied casinos and other interests from being involved in the study. “I asked for no bias,” explained Rep. Bennett. “I think we got that.”
It was determined that both casinos and the state’s tax coffers would stand to benefit from reformed gambling legislation. In the last two years, Mississippi casinos have seen a steady decline in revenue, resulting in a reduction of $34 million towards state taxes. But the main form of gambling Mississippi officials found beneficial to legalize is sports betting.
Mississippi Hopeful for Legal Sports Betting Future
“Sports betting would definitely help the industry here,” said Rep. Bennett. Unfortunately, there’s no option to legalize such an activity at this time. New Jersey is currently fighting a long, ongoing battle in federal courts to earn the right to legalize sports betting – an activity that only four states grandfathered in after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed in 1992.
The Chairman said that they will be closely watching the New Jersey sports betting case, and if it happens to go in the Garden State’s favor, Mississippi will immediately take action to legalize sports betting.
Lottery Tickets at Mississippi Casinos
More than 20 years ago, in 1992, “the people voted in favor of a lottery,” said Rep. Bennett. Legislators amended the state constitution to remove the prohibition of lottery sales, but never took the next step to enact any laws authorizing a lottery.
The Gaming Commission Chairman said he’s not sure just how successful a Mississippi Lottery will be now, compared to what it could have grown into over the last 20+ years, but that he does see support among legislators. However, not all towns are in favor of local lottery tickets being sold at every street corner gas station.
Instead, Rep. Bennett said it’s more likely that lottery sales will only take place at the state’s casinos, where gambling is already accepted by the public in those areas. Likewise, he doesn’t foresee the installment of a state-run lottery—at least, not at this time. He would prefer suggesting the state incorporate the immense nationwide lottery jackpots associated with the Powerball.
Online Gambling not Worth Regulating at this Time
Rep. Bennett is not opposed to the legalization of online poker and casino games, but says the market in Mississippi simply isn’t ready. Even in New Jersey, where 9 million residents who are accustomed having a land-based gambling mecca on their doorstep, only generated 10% of the revenue predicted from internet gambling.
In Mississippi, a state where less than half of roughly 3 million residents own a computer or have internet access, it just wouldn’t make sense. “We’re a state that’s going to stay back and watch,” said Rep. Bennett.