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Mississippi Remains Divided On Legalizing Online Sports Betting

Task Force Discussed Issue, Legislation Possible


Mississippi has a long casino history with a dozen properties along the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis, and then more across the state including further north in Jackson and Tunica. The state was one of the first to launch sports betting in 2018 after the Supreme overturned a federal law virtually limiting wagering on sports outside Nevada.

However, the state has yet to embrace online wagering. At a time when as much as 80% or more of wagers are made online in some markets, the issue is now dividing some in the Magnolia State.

The Mississippi Mobile Sports Betting Task Force is now considering the future of mobile and online wagering, and is composed of lawmakers, government appointees, and Jay McDaniel, director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The group met last Tuesday to consider all sides of the issue to determine whether to seek legislation in 2024.

Cannibalizing Live Casinos?

The meeting included those looking at both sides of possible sports betting legalization. Some in the industry, such as Riverwalk Casino general manager Cathy Beeding and Treasure Bay Casino President and COO Susan Barnes, were concerned about possible lost revenue.

The state’s casinos experienced an uptick after retail wagering legalization in 2018 and casino operators are concerned some of those bettors may now just stay home to bet. Critics were also concerned about splitting sports revenue with online operators.

Some state officials and casino executives argue some of the state’s casino industry is unique, built around a complete vacation getaway with beaches and other opportunities beyond the casino. They’re concerned some of that could be lost.

“My primary concern is how to make sure that we don’t do anything in Mississippi that jeopardizes the destination gaming product that Mississippi gaming has been built on,” State Sen. Mike Thompson® told WLOX. “That’s very important to me. At one point in time, we had nearly 80% of our casinos with drive-in traffic. And we know that those patrons don’t necessarily stay on casino properties full-time. They go out in the community. They eat at restaurants. They go fishing and visit towns like Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs, Pass Christian. And so, we know that that destination gaming product is important to the entire coast.”

Missing Out On Revenue

Those in favor of online wagering pointed to the potential lost revenue not only for states, but the casinos themselves. In most states, the casinos partner with larger online operators and have a chance to take a slice of a much-larger pie.

Some of those also addressing the task force were representatives with online operators. Many pointed to the money the state is leaving on the table.

Jason Tosches, director of public affairs and government relations for Penn Entertainment, said mobile wagering would draw in new customers who might not head to a live casino. That offered a chance for casinos to reap revenue from bettors not even visiting their properties.

“We believe any notion that online sports betting would somehow negatively impact land-based casinos, lead to property closures, or damage the state’s existing regulatory framework is simply false,” Tosches said. “New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Indiana and Iowa all had greater slot and table game revenue last year than in 2019, and these are among the first movers that authorized online sports betting between three and five years ago.”

Rep. Casey Eure® said he plans on introducing legislation in the next session and wants to discuss his plans in the next task force meeting.