Mississippi’s Online Gambling – Current Status

Mississippi's Online Gambling
Current Status

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Image: Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia

Mississippi’s Online Gambling – Current Status

Three bills that would have legalized mobile sports betting have failed to get past the committee stage. The legislation which was introduced in January was pulled in early February. It would have seemed that the state would prefer to focus on its retail sportsbooks only which were made legal in 2018.

State Senators Philip Moran and Scott DeLano’s proposals would have made it possible for Mississippians to place bets on from anywhere in the state using their computer or mobile phone. It would also see a percentage of operator profits in the states growing from remote gambling. And this would have included tax revenues.

The Bills

February 2 saw all three bills aimed at legalizing online sports betting fail due to lack of support from lawmakers.

Senate Bill SB2396 would have given a mobile sports betting license to each operating casino. Senate Bill SB2732 and House Bill HB1042 were aimed at getting online sports betting markets added to the law as a standalone option. This would have allowed operators to open their platforms across the state without the need to partner with a land-based casino.

It was hoped that Mississippi would be able to capitalize on its recent success with its land-based sports betting operations and expand on that. State officials supporting the bills also noted other state’s continued wealth grown by the legalization of online sports betting.

Whilst at a hearing, Allen Godfrey, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission discussed the state’s sports betting handle. He noted that Mississippi’s 2019 sports betting handle at $370 million was a “far cry” from the $850 million online and retail sports betting handle reported in September 2020 in New Jersey.

State Senator Phillip Moran commented: “Every day millions of Americans in 15 states have access to state-of-the-art mobile sportsbooks, allowing them to place bets on their favorite teams and leagues at home while fostering much-needed tax revenue,” he said to the press. “Mississippi has been leaving money on the table by not authorizing online sports wagering, and it is time to modernize Mississippi’s gambling offerings and do what’s best for Mississippians.”

Currently, the gaming laws outline that casinos can launch mobile sportsbook, but players may only access and bet whilst on the grounds of the establishment. Not surprisingly, no casino within the state has gone live with a mobile platform due to this restriction.

Why is Mississippi against Online Sports Betting Legislation

There has been a steady growth in Mississippi’s legal sports betting revenue since it was launched in 2018. The state has seen $103 million with over $43 million earned in 2020 alone.

With the growth in both activities and profit, it seems that most of the state’s lawmakers don’t see the need to add further complications to the market. Especially with the inclusion of the online aspect. Alongside that thinking, there is also a lot that is unknown about adding this new market which still needs to be addressed.

Despite the proposal failing, Senator Scott DeLano who sponsored Bill SB2396 looks at the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for its failure. He believes that alongside the retail casinos’ concerns about how the bill would affect their business, the session was pushed out of sorts due to the pandemic. With all of this, there just wasn’t enough time to talk thoroughly through all the sections of the bill.

Speaking about Bill SB2396, Delano said there is more time needed to get the facts and figures. He recognizes that sports betting is a relatively new market. But he is determined to get online sports betting legalized in Mississippi.

Scott Delano Still Remains Positive for 2022

Despite the failings, Delano is staying positive for 2022 and the legalization of online sports betting. When speaking about the latest status, DeLano said: “First there was Daily Fantasy Sports, (DFS) which I spearheaded, then sports betting, now mobile sportsbooks are the next thing and we’re certainly moving towards that but I’ve been the one that has brought DFS to Mississippi which has evolved into sports betting, so I have always stayed up with legislation for anything else regarding gambling on sports.”                               

For context, prior to making retail sportsbooks legal there was a set plan of regulations before the relevant legislation being passed. Delano hopes that this will be the case for Mississippi, with the Mississippi Gambling Commission (MGC) able to use 2021 for research key factors of other mobile sportsbooks of other states.

Using the year to watch the success of other states’ success and to then apply this research to structure the Mississippi market. Although 2021 didn’t see the bill pass, DeLano is hopeful that 2022 will be a success.

The History of Mississippi Gambling

Gambling in Mississippi has been around for hundreds of years. Starting with Native Americans engaged in games and betting before the arrival of European settlers. The first horse racing track, the Fleetfield Racetrack, in Mississippi was established in 1795 under Spanish rule.

In more recent years, the area along the coast is known as The Strip, which attracted big acts such as Elvis Presley and Hank Williams to the area. The influx of visitors to the area led to the US-90 highway to be one of the first roads in the country to be widened to four lanes due to traffic concerns.

1950 changed everything. The Biloxi Protestant Ministerial Association began meeting with congregants about the ill effects and dangers of gambling. It began running advertisements in newspapers citing the Mississippi Law Code of 1942, and spoke about how gambling machines violated state law.

The Association used an investigation into casinos as sources of criminal activities to garner more attention to the unpleasant aspects of gambling. The investigation ran by the US Senate’s Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. It would eventually be known as the Kefauver Committee. And the effects on organized crime that was involved in illegal gambling in the state were far-reaching.

As a result, most slot machines were confiscated and gambling was forced to go underground. The devastation brought by Hurricane Camille in 1969 put an end to both gambling and the tourist industries along the waterline. It caused the region’s and state’s economy to suffer.

This decline saw its end in 1990 when the Mississippi Gaming Control Act was passed. It legalized casino gambling in Mississippi counties along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. Another push towards legal gambling in the State of Mississippi was the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 which allowed federally recognized Native American tribes to build and operate casinos on tribal lands. Currently, there are 29 casinos operating in Mississippi counties. For many years, there was no real competition to Mississippi casino goers in the region other than New Orleans. This, until Florida allowed to open its own casinos.

More Southern States Considering Legalizing Sports Betting

For those in other Southern states wanting access to online sports betting, there are several states currently debating just that. These include Georgia, Texas and Florida. Alabama’s Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy noted sports betting could bring in $10 million in tax revenue every year.

In Louisiana, during the November election, 55 of the state’s 64 parishes approved sports betting within the borders of the parishes. Also, parishes in the larger cities, such as Baton Rouge, have overwhelmingly supported the ballot.

The Louisiana Legislature will decide whether to restrict sports wagering to in-person sportsbooks or to allow mobile sports betting. The legislature meets at the Capitol in Baton Rouge in April. Sports betting is not expected to be in operation in Louisiana until 2022.

Ben Koff, vice president of the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort has expressed concern that Mississippi will be beaten to mobile sports betting. He commented: “Pretty soon we’re going to be left in the dark, and we can’t be the one left in the dark and lose our customers and our guests choosing to go elsewhere with their casino entertainment dollars.”

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