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Miss. Online Gaming Bill Dies Despite DOJ Flip-Flop

Rep. Bobby Moak Talks About His Failed Crack at Legislation

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Jackson, MississippiThe Mississippi online gaming bill that died last week in the state legislature was the first of its kind to fail since the Department of Justice relaxed its grip on the issue in December 2011.

Right before Christmas, poker players were given a stocking full of legal rhetoric in the form of a letter clarifying the government’s position on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act — a statute riddled with ambiguities and now considered to be obsolete in preventing a patchwork of intrastate online gaming.

As the momentum seemed to be building, Mississippi lawmaker Bobby Moak (R-Lincoln County) introduced a measure to allow the state’s existing gaming licensees to offer games in cyberspace. The Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2012 explicitly mentioned the DOJ opinion.

Despite not hearing any specific objections to the language of his measure, Moak witnessed it hit the rail after just three weeks on the table. “I don’t believe folks have been following the issue very closely,” he said.

Moak, a longtime observer of the issue at both the state and federal level, said he hopes it’s a lack of understanding among his colleagues, rather than pure opposition to the proposal.

“We’re in a state that is also politically charged anytime you are going to discuss gaming issues, liquor issues, or any so-called ‘sin’ issue,” he said. “There’s just not an awful lot of volunteers who want to get out there and tackle those.”

MoakMoak said the state needs to have casino giants Harrah’s, Boyd and Mirage sit down and hash things out with the locally owned casinos. Moak said there needs to be a “good conversation about what Mississippi needs to do.”

The state has some recent experience with seeing its casino companies work in concert. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the brick-and-mortar operations were moved offshore, despite some initial opposition, Moak said.

“The same thing can happen here with online gaming,” he said.

Moak admitted he doesn’t personally have the “pulpit” to bring everyone together on legalizing Internet gaming.

“For a small state we have done pretty well in the gaming industry,” Moak said. “We have been viewed as somewhat of a leader because we are close to the Nevada [gaming] statutes and to some degree New Jersey. Small states like Mississippi that are really heavy in the industry need to get out in front on issues like this. It is going to happen. It is coming.”

Mississippi’s 30 commercial casinos had gross gaming revenue of $2.39 billion in 2011, the smallest figure since 1998. Gambling in the state became legal in 1990.

When asked if he thinks such legislation would be tough to pass in other Bible Belt states, Moak admitted that it’s going to be a tough sell everywhere in the country.

According to Moak, online gaming legislation is simply trying to regulate what is already happening on the Internet. “It just allows the states, greedily, to capture those taxes. Every state should be aware of that, especially those who have gaming facilities or assets.”

“Mississippi just happens to be in the Bible Belt,” Moak added.

Moak said the federal government needs to “bite the bullet” on Internet gaming, rather than allowing a state-by-state patchwork to develop.

Nonetheless, he said he’s disappointed Mississippi doesn’t have a “product.” As always, the issue isn’t drawing dead. Moak plans on reintroducing the legislation.

Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus