There are Mississippi casino operators that oppose expanding Mississippi sports betting to allow online wagering statewide. However, should lawmakers take that step, which could come as soon as next year’s legislative session, some want a requirement that any Mississippi online sports betting account holder must first register their account at a casino.
In-person registration is currently required in Nevada and previously was required in Iowa and Illinois when sports betting first launched in those states. While proponents of in-person registration say it can help deter underage gambling, several sports betting operators argue that it’s an unnecessary step and reduces interest, enrollment and overall activity.
In Iowa, for example, registering for an online sports betting account at its partnering casino was a requirement from the start of sports betting there in August 2019 through the end of 2020. In December 2020, the state’s sportsbooks accepted $104.8 million in bets, with $78.1 million wagered online. In January 2021, a month that features far fewer football games than December, the total handle grew to $149.5 million, with mobile operators taking $120.8 million of the action.
The issue came up during last week’s Mobile-Online Sports Betting Task Force meeting in Jackson.
Mississippi's Split Decision On Sports Betting Mobile Registration
Mississippi has 26 casinos located in seven of the state’s 82 counties. During Tuesday’s meeting, state Rep. Casey Eure, R-Saucier, asked about a survey of casinos and whether they support mobile registration for online sports betting accounts. Only 20 of the casinos responded, with 19 in the affirmative.
“So, the inference there is that there are seven opposed (to mobile registration),” said Jonathan Jones, the senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Gulf Coast Casino in Biloxi.
However, another way to look at the issue would show a smaller margin between operators.
Mike Bruffey, the general counsel and vice president of the Island View Casino Resort in Biloxi, pointed out the casinos are owned by 16 companies. When that’s factored in, he said that the vote is really 10 that support mobile registration and six that do not. Essentially, the vote is split between the larger gaming operators and Mississippi’s smaller or independent casinos.
It’s an important consideration, Bruffey added, noting that Nevada requires in-person registration. He drew attention to the fact that online sports betting only accounts for about 65% of the wagering in Nevada, compared to 90% or more in other states.
“That proves statistically that you’re going to keep more business at your casino if you require in-person registration,” said Bruffey, who previously served as the deputy director and counsel for the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association. “So, we would be in favor of that.”
Jones, though, countered that the discrepancy in online market share between Nevada and other states is due to the number of visitors that flock to Las Vegas.
Operators’ Stances May Differ By Jurisdiction
The question over in-person registration shows how the positions for gaming operators can vary from state to state.
Harrah’s is owned by Caesars Entertainment, which has several casinos in Las Vegas. The Reno, Nev.-based gaming company supports the in-person requirement in its home state, but Jones said the company has come to oppose such restrictions elsewhere as new states have launched sports betting. Many Mississippi residents do not live within a short drive of a casino.
“We believe that to be extra friction and not necessarily the right thing to do,” he explained. “The one state that does stand out a little bit is Nevada, but Nevada has got almost 400 casinos where someone could go in and register. So, it’s a very different type of state than here.”
Similarly, Cathy Beeding, the general manager for the Riverwalk Casino-Hotel in Vicksburg, spoke at last week’s meeting urging state lawmakers not to allow online wagering statewide. Riverwalk is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., a Kentucky-based gaming company that partners with online sports betting operators in several states.
When asked why it’s good for Churchill Downs’ home state and not Mississippi, Beeding said gambling has always been an issue left up to the states.
“In particular, you will find dramatic differences in law and regulation from one state to the next, and you have operators that operate in both states,” she explained. “Yet the regulatory environment could be completely and dramatically different, and that’s the case here.”