Mississippi was one of the first states to legalize sports betting, accepting in-person wagers on Aug. 1, 2018, less than three months after the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate PASPA, which banned sports gambling in the majority of states.
Since then, though, Mississippi sports betting might have fallen behind as legislation to permit statewide online mobile sports betting has failed multiple times, while neighboring states (Tennessee, Louisiana) roll out mobile options.
Currently, online sports wagering is legal in Mississippi, but only in-person at two MGM Resorts (Beau Rivage Resort and Casino and Gold Strike Casino).
BetMississippi sat down with Jay McDaniel, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, to talk about the state of sports betting in the Magnolia State and where it goes from here.
BetMississippi: You come in as executive director in September (2021, after 10 years as deputy director), right after Hurricane Ida. You were expecting a blockbuster year for Mississippi casinos in 2021, did that come to fruition despite Hurricane Ida closing down casinos for a few days?
Jay McDaniel: Definitely — 2021 was a record-breaking year. The Gulf Coast market, which is 12 casinos, had their best year ever, historically. Overall statewide, it wasn’t a record-breaking year, it was certainly the best since the recession in 2008-2009, when we started seeing numbers dip. We came back pretty strong after COVID and the Gulf Coast as a market did very well.
What’s Next for Online Sports Betting Legislation?
BetMississippi: The big issue right now is online mobile sports betting. Where does Mississippi go from here after those bills died earlier this year and didn’t make it to a vote?
McDaniel: We, certainly as a Gaming Commission, are kind of on a wait-and-see (basis). We certainly stay on top of the technology and the preparation if it were to ever pass, but we’re kind of at the mercy of the legislature if that will happen. Our legislature only meets, unless a special session gets called, in January and April every year. So, we’re kind of waiting to see what happens next January right now.
There are a couple statutes that would require changing, so there’s not much we can do. Right now, what I am doing, is watching Louisiana, seeing what their numbers are doing, so I can give that data, if I get asked: “What would we do? What would our revenues likely look like?” We’re keeping an eye on our neighbors to see how they’re doing.
BetMississippi: On that note, have you seen the markets in places like Tunica and Biloxi take a hit with those border states introducing sports betting and rolling out online options?
McDaniel: I definitely have, but not as bad as I thought I would. What I’ve really seen is just a stunt in the growth. Our sports betting has grown, pretty much month over month, since 2019, the first full year we had it. Even in 2020 during COVID, we held steady on our numbers. We have taken a little dip. When Tennessee came online at the end of 2020, we definitely saw a dip in the Tunica market. With Louisiana coming online, basically in February (2022) being their first full month, we saw a significant hit more so to the coastal market. It’s kind of stabilized. We just got our April number and April of this year was down a little bit from April of last year, but not as bad as I would’ve thought considering they opened mobile.
I think we’re still seeing players, obviously from our state, that like the retail. There are people that would prefer to do that over mobile, but I can tell you it probably stunted our growth and I think we’ll probably continue to lose some players that find out they can go over there and use that mobile application, especially in our counties that don’t have gaming.
Keeping an Eye on Louisiana
BetMississippi: You mentioned keeping an eye on your neighbor, which is similar to what you said at the Biloxi Gaming Summit earlier this month. You look at Louisiana and they offer mobile wagers and take in over $40 million in a matter of days. Now that it’s been a couple months, do you see that opportunity down the road for Mississippi?
McDaniel: I think so. One thing I’ve seen in Louisiana is their handle – the amount wagered. It’s over $200 million a month. About 10% of that’s retail; most of the betting handle is mobile. We’re in that $40-$50 million a month range, so I would think if we did mobile, it might accrue to the same level. You may be seeing $200-$300 million numbers, possibly, especially during football season.
In the fall, I’m sure Louisiana numbers are gonna go through the roof; football is king down there. I certainly think if we had mobile, we’re a smaller population state, but where as Louisiana is drawing from Texas, who doesn’t have, we would draw from Alabama.
”I think there’s certainly opportunity to take five-to-10 times increase in our handle if we had mobile.”
BetMississippi: You said you’re on that wait-and-see basis when it comes to mobile. In your opinion, what’s holding it up? Is it as cut and dry as protecting those brick-and-mortar establishments?
McDaniel: I think what’s holding it up, we have a retail market of 26 commercial casinos, and I honestly think there’s just some, maybe a little friction, as to: How it’s gonna be rolled out? Who wants it? Who doesn’t? I just don’t think there’s a consensus to go push the legislature to say, “This is how we would prefer you do it.”
I think without that push of a good consensus from all operators, I think it’s just, ‘What do we do? Do we allow skins? Do we do on-site registration?’ Those kind of questions, I just don’t think there’s a clear bill yet. These last two sessions, that has happened. If that happens next year, that could change things. I think that’s the main issue.
What Are Consumers Saying?
BetMississippi: What sort of feedback have you heard from the consumer? Has it been frustration, concern or just a lack of patience that they can’t place wagers online and from the comfort of their own home like they can do in other states?
McDaniel: What we hear from consumers is, we get calls all the time like, “Why won’t you all pass this?” I have to explain that it’s not us, it’s not the Gaming Commission. We only have gaming on our coastal counties and our river counties, so you have a lot of other counties, 60 or 70 counties in our state, that don’t have legalized gaming. The people in those counties, there are some that want to be able to do this.
As they read about other states doing it, it’s the highlight across the nation. Any time another state comes online, we get those same questions like, “What’s the harm?” Because a lot of those people know there’s already an illegal market. They would rather do this in a legalized manner.
I don’t know how much the legislature is getting that push, though. It’s just more of that gambler who really likes to do it (who) calls us up. There’s not a big outcry about it, I guess, is the fair way to say it.