Mississippi state Rep. Casey Eure knew going into Tuesday’s Mobile-Online Sports Betting Task Force meeting that there would be some disagreement among members. However, he made it clear that he wanted everyone’s thoughts, even if they opposed his plan to expand wagering beyond the state’s casinos.
As expected, some of the feedback during the nearly two-hour session was, in fact, pushback from casino operators concerned about the impact on their retail sportsbooks. Both Eure, R-Saucier, and state Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, stressed they’re not looking to cannibalize business from Mississippi’s existing casinos, nor are the task force co-chairs interested in going beyond online sports betting.
“My No. 1 goal is to protect bricks and mortar. I’ve said that from the beginning, this bill would not have anything to do with iGaming,” said Eure, who intends to file a bill to legalize online Mississippi sports betting for next year’s session.
The committee, which includes lawmakers and gaming industry representatives, came about after the Mississippi Legislature passed Eure’s House Bill 606. Initially, Eure filed the bill to legalize online sports betting in a state where retail sportsbooks have operated for five years. However, it was amended by a committee.
The legislators said they expected Tuesday’s meeting to be the final one for the group. A full report of the task force’s findings is expected to be produced by HB 606’s Dec. 15 deadline.
Concerns Raised Over ‘Societal Harms’
Cathy Beeding was one of the task force members speaking out against online sports betting. The general manager of the Riverwalk Casino-Hotel in Vicksburg said that online sports betting apps cannot match the level of safeguards and protections offered by casinos. She pointed out that states like Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio have levied large fines against sports betting operators because of such errors as sending promotional materials to underage bettors or allowing people who have joined self-exclusion lists to gamble.
“I just want there to be some awareness and realization that while these are well-intentioned and well-designed systems - and people that are operating those systems - it’s a common occurrence for those systems to fail,” she said. “The result of those failures can cause serious societal harms, and those harms are not the same that you find in a brick-and-mortar establishment.”
Riverwalk is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.. Eure noted that the Kentucky-based operator supports online sports betting in its home state and has partnerships with several mobile operators there. So, he asked why is online good for the Bluegrass State and not the Magnolia State.
Beeding, answered that the two states' gaming environments are very different.
“Gambling has always been a states’ rights issue,” she said.
Opponents Say Online Sports Betting Offers Little Benefit
Others opposed to online sports betting argued that just four operators control about 90% of the online sports betting market in most states. Because of that, they argued that many of Mississippi’s casinos will not reap the benefits from online wagering.
Mike Bruffey, the general counsel and vice president of the Island View Casino Resort in Biloxi, said that even if his casino partnered with one of the big operators, Island View still would only get a “very, very small portion” of the revenue the online sports betting provider generates.
He noted the recent decision by Wynn Resorts to pull out of online sports betting in most states where the Las Vegas-based company was licensed due to market challenges.
“They cannot compete,” he said. “It’s so expensive to offer somebody $200 of free play if you come in bet $5. Well, at the end of the day, they’re not making any money… So, that’s kind of what you’re facing in the online world. You’re either going to take a small percentage, and it’s not your customer. Or you’re going to try to compete (on your own), and it’s very difficult.”
One task force member said that while they oppose online sports betting, they would have no choice but to take part if it became legal. At that point, they would be battling with a dozen other casinos for about 10% of the Mississippi sports betting market.