Bobby Moak Mississippi Online Gaming Bill

Mississippi Rep. Bobby Moak’s third attempt to introduce a state online gaming bill follows two failed prior efforts to make it off the starting block. (Image: Trip Burns/Hechinger Report)

A Mississippi bill that seeks to legalize and regulate online poker, and online gaming in general, while coming down hard on those who continue to play on illegal sites post-regulation, has hit the statehouse at the opening of the new legislative session.

On the same day that Washington State produced a surprise online poker bill of its own, Mississippi State Representative Bobby Moak (D-District 53) introduced the Mississippi Lawful Gaming Act 2015.

It’s not the first such attempt by Moak to push for the legalization of online gaming; the Assemblyman proposed similar bills in 2012 and again in 2013, but neither was able to garner enough support to make it through the committee stage.

The Mississippi Lawful Gaming Act may also struggle to gain traction.

While Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, appointed a committee to provide a comprehensive study of the viability of online gaming in the state last year, he also admitted that it “remains unlikely that Mississippi will copy other states that have legalized some form of Internet gaming.”

Odds Stacked Against Bill

The study, the results of which have yet to be published, has looked closely at the performance of the three other states that have so far chosen to regulate online gaming, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, and it’s likely that underwhelming financial results in all three will dissuade Mississippi from following suit.

However, Moak is nothing if not dogged.

“The Legislature finds that since the development of the Internet, millions of people have chosen to engage in online gaming through illegal off-shore operators, and such unlawful gambling is conducted without oversight, regulation, or enforcement, all of which raises significant concerns for the protection of our citizens,” states the new bill. “Without regulation of online gambling, the public’s trust and confidence in legal gaming is impacted.

“An effective state regulatory and licensing system for online gaming,” it continues, “would inhibit underage wagering and otherwise protect vulnerable individuals, ensure that the games offered through the Internet are fair and safe, stop sending much-needed jobs and tax and fee revenue overseas to illegal operators, provide a significant source of taxable revenue, create jobs and economic development, address the concerns of law enforcement, and ensure that only those persons of good character and fitness, who meet strict criteria set forth in law and regulations, are suitable to facilitate and conduct online gaming activities.”

Penalties for Players

But the Mississippi Lawful Gaming Act 2015 would impose stiff penalties for players who continued to play on the unregulated market after the bill came into force.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, Mississippians caught playing on illegal sites post-regulation could face up to 90 days in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, while winnings, and property purchased with winnings, could also be confiscated.

The Poker Players Alliance wasted no time in declaring this stance “misguided.” Rich Muny, vice president of player relations and board member of the Poker Players Alliance told Pokerfuse that “player penalties wrongly shift the target of enforcement efforts from hard-to-reach offshore sites to the players.”