Casino Gambling

Supreme Court strikes down federal sports betting laws. What does it mean for Mississippi?

Supreme Court lets states legalize sports betting in historic 6-3 decision

With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.
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With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.

Get ready to bet legally on the Saints or the Rebels this football season, now that the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down the federal law that permitted sports betting only in Nevada and a handful of other states with grandfather status.

Mississippi legislators passed a law in 2017 legalizing sports betting at casinos if it is legal in the United States, which means Mississippi could be one of the first states to offer sports betting.

"The Ole Miss, State game just got a lot bigger," said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association, who learned of the ruling while in a meeting Monday morning.

The goal is to have sports betting in Mississippi casinos by late summer "If not sooner," he said.

"We're a sports-oriented culture here,” he said of Mississippi. "Being the only state in the Southeast that will be offering this, it will be an exciting time for properties."

Casinos are all in

"We've been exploring options and locations for at least the past two months expecting it to happen,” Chett Harrison, general manager of Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, said of the overturn of the ban on sports betting. "We're definitely, 100 percent going to be in the game.”

Golden Nugget in Las Vegas is one of the few casinos with an in-house bookmaker, he said. Sports betting isn't a huge money maker for a casino, he said, but is a boost for traffic into a casino, especially during the Super Bowl, Final Four and other big sporting events.

"It's definitely going to be a good boost for Mississippi,” he said, especially since no other state in the entire Southeast has passed a law like Mississippi did to allow sports betting.

“Louisiana didn't even approve it,” he said, although he said it is just a matter of time before Louisiana joins other states across the country and adopts legislation.

American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman talks about potential for legalized sports betting in Mississippi.

Next steps

Godfrey said the proposed regulations will be released for public comment in the near future. The comment period is 25 days and once approved by the Gaming Commission, the regulations take effect in 30 days.

The regulations do not include an "integrity fee" representatives of the sports leagues are suggesting the casino industry should pay to them, Godfrey said.

Mississippi's casino operators will need to go before the Gaming Commission to explain how they are going to handle their sportsbook, he said.

He expects findings of suitability and licenses for these operations to proceed quickly at the casinos whose parent companies such as MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment already have bookmakers in Las Vegas, where sports betting has been practiced since 1949.

"Now we have a direction and will work tirelessly to get this ready,” he said. This is another amenity the casino can offer, Godfrey said, and he believes foot traffic and business will increase at the casinos.

The decision

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, according to The Associated Press.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court. "Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

Jonathan Cohn, a partner at the law firm Sidley Austin and one of the authors of the American Gaming Association's brief to the Supreme Court, said he wasn't surprised that the Supreme Court overturned the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. He said the decision was "more comprehensive and robust that I was expecting." The entire law was overturned, he said, so that restrictions on state and private actors are no longer valid.

End of bookies?

Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, said he believes the end of sports betting also means the end of illegal bookies.

"We think there's an opportunity to capture not just all of that but to grown the market,” he said.

"Anyone who believes sports betting is not a multi-million dollar industry in Mississippi is fooling themselves,” said Mississippi Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, who wrote the legislation that allowed sports betting in the state if it became legal in the United States. That passed in 2017 on the second try in the House, he said, even before the Supreme Court agreed to look at the issue.

"It's a bad day for bookies. It's a good day for casinos," Bennett said.

The revenue from sports betting will be added to the Gross Gaming Revenue reported each month and Bennett said he sees a big uptick when football starts in the fall, “When it's kind of a slow time for casinos.”

Bennett also sees sports reviving reviving the casino industry in Mississippi's river counties that have seen casino revenue cut in half over the past 10 years due to competition from neighboring states. Those states haven't approved sports betting.

"Even thought it's a big day for the Coast, it's an even bigger day for Tunica,” Benett said.

A new game in town

Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, said at the Southern Gaming Summit at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi May 4 that attitudes have changed since the sports betting law was passed in 1992 and since he began fighting for the repeal a few years ago.

Now, he said, the fans, casino industry, the sports leagues, broadcasters, law enforcement and mayors all want it.

The AGA is talking with the leagues and working through the issues, he said, including integrity fees.

The AGA estimates that $150 billion is wagered by Americans on sports each year, only $4.5 billion of that wagered legally in Nevada. Freeman said the ruling will provide integrity of the games, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling and generate new revenue for states, leagues, broadcasters and many others.

Mary Perez: 228-896-2354, @MaryPerezSH

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