FILE – FanDuel, DraftKings and other online gambling apps are displayed on a phone in San Francisco, Sept. 26, 2022. A Mississippi House committee advanced legislation Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, called the Mississippi Mobile Sports Wagering Act. The bill would legalize mobile sports betting while requiring gambling companies to contract with brick-and-mortar gambling establishments. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

by Michael Goldberg, Associated Press

A bill advancing in Mississippi’s Legislature would legalize online sports betting in the state, where analysts say consumer demand continues to fuel a thriving black market.

A Mississippi House committee advanced the legislation Tuesday, calling it the Mississippi Mobile Sports Wagering Act. The bill would legalize mobile sports betting while requiring gambling companies to contract with brick-and-mortar gambling establishments. Sports wagering has been legal in the state for years, but online betting has remained illegal amid fears the move could harm the bottom line of the state’s casinos.

Estimates show Mississippi could bring in over $25 million a year in tax revenue, said Republican Rep. Casey Eure of Harrison County, the bill’s prime sponsor. Changing the law would also undercut the influence of illegal offshore sports betting platforms in Mississippi, which leads the nation in illegal online sports betting Google searches, according to data presented by lawmakers.

“Once you legalize mobile sports betting, you do away with a lot of that illegal market,” Eure said.

Across the U.S. each year, illegal betting sites see about $64 billion in wagers, Eure said. Mississippi makes up 5% of that market, which is about $3 billion in illegal bets.

Mobile sports betting is already legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., according to the American Gaming Association. There is active legislation in five other states, including Mississippi.

Geolocation data obtained by the company GeoComply Solutions Inc. showed millions of hits from mobile devices located in Mississippi accessing legal sports betting sites in other states. In neighboring Tennessee and Louisiana, online sports betting has been legal since 2020 and 2022, respectively.

If the Mississippi law passes, online gaming platforms would have to reach an agreement with licensed gambling establishments to establish an online sports betting presence in the state. But Democratic House Minority Leader Robert Johnson of Natchez, who voted against the bill, said that provision didn’t guarantee smaller casinos in rural areas of the state would be protected.

“When you say protecting brick-and-mortar casinos, there’s no reason for a casino in Vicksburg, Natchez or Greenville to believe that a large national sports (betting) company would have any incentive to partner with anybody other than the people they’re partnering with already,” Johnson said.

The bill awaits consideration by the full House.