May 15, 2018 10:56:15 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi could, at least temporarily, be the only place within the Southeastern Conference where football fans can put bets down when games begin at summer's end.
Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said the casino regulator has already been working on rules governing sports betting at the state's 28 casinos, and they are almost complete.
"It's technically just another game that's being allowed to be played in a licensed casino," Godfrey told The Associated Press.
Although most lawmakers said they didn't realize it at the time, Mississippi changed its law in 2017 to allow sports betting as part of a bill legalizing and regulating fantasy sports. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, clearing the way for Mississippi casinos to move forward.
Godfrey said the rules won't come before the Gaming Commission at its regularly scheduled meeting this Thursday, but said they will likely be considered in June at the latest. Once the commission sends the rules out for public comment, it has to wait 25 days before voting to finalize them, and then another 30 days before they take effect.
A June vote means casinos could renovate areas to serve as sports books before college football season begins in late August. The first regular season NFL game is Sept. 6.
"A lot has to happen over the next 90 days before football season begins," said Michael Bruffey, Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association deputy director.
Mississippi's casinos, which boomed in the 1990s, have struggled with competition as gambling has become more common nationwide. Sports betting could give its casinos a competitive edge, at least for now.
Bruffey said sports betting itself is unlikely to contribute a lot of revenue, but casinos hope it will attract customers who will spend money on hotel rooms, restaurants and other gambling.
"The sports betting itself is not a huge revenue generator. The margins are very small," Bruffey said. "However, it is an attraction."
New Jersey pursued the legal challenge to allow sports betting along with existing sports books in Nevada. Other states likely to join those two and Mississippi include Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, a bill to legalize sports betting in Louisiana is dead for now.
Unlike in some other states, Mississippi's betting would be confined to casinos and not be allowed remotely. Godfrey said Mississippi's regulations are modeled on Nevada's and he's confident they will be effective.