There is support for bringing statewide online Mississippi sports betting, but as presentations before a panel showed Tuesday, it’s hardly unanimous among the state’s casino operators.
The Mobile-Online Sports Betting Task Force met in Jackson to receive testimony from stakeholders and industry experts. The committee - which includes lawmakers, state officials and representatives from the state’s casinos - was created through a bill passed earlier this year by the Mississippi Legislature.
Mississippi was one of the first states to offer sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA five years ago. However, the current law confines the activity to the state’s 26 casinos, with bettors able to wager at sportsbooks or possibly online with the corresponding app.
House Gaming Chair Casey Eure, R-Saucier, who sponsored the bill creating the task force, said Tuesday he intends to file a bill for next year’s session that would make Mississippi the 30th state to allow online wagering statewide. He said he wants to use the task force’s next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 13, to discuss what should be in that legislation.
“I can’t sit here and tell you for sure that it’s going to pass the House . . . but I wanted everybody to know where I stood from Day One,” he said.
Small Casinos Fear Losing Business
Executives from two independent casinos spoke out against expanded sports betting in the state. Treasure Bay Casino President Susan Varnes told the task force that brick-and-mortar sports betting helped increase revenue at her Biloxi resort, but that wasn’t just from the wagers themselves. She fears online betting will lead to reduced revenue for her casino.
“Ancillary play from the people who visited us and their guests drove revenue,” Varnes said. “Now, if mobile sports betting is approved, I’m not suggesting that there won’t be an increase in (statewide) sportsbook revenue. There probably will be, but at what cost to the ancillary gaming revenue, as well as the food and beverage outlets, the hotel and the other amenities that we offer at our casinos? That’s a question and a concern we have.”
There were also questions on whether current state law would require voters in each county to hold a referendum to allow online sports betting.
Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino Resort, was blunt in his remarks. He told the task force that he drove up from Biloxi to tell the members that he opposes online sports betting and that his stance was “non-negotiable.” He believes proponents of online sports betting won’t want to stop there.
“It’s been demonstrated in multiple states, and I think it’s actually been stated by some of the leadership in some of the larger organizations, that this is only a half-step to iGaming and anyone in the industry that tells me different, (expletive). It’s just not the case,” he said.
Earlier in the day, PENN Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Jason Tosches sought to allay fears about cannibalization, noting that Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey and Pennsylvania reported higher retail casino revenues last year compared to 2019.
However, when asked, Tosches drew a line against pushing for the inclusion of online casino gaming in any Mississippi online sports betting bill.
“I think we have broad alignment on that point across maybe all or a significant majority of Mississippi’s casinos don’t necessarily think that would be helpful to getting online sports betting,” he said.
Online Interest Growing in Mississippi
GeoComply Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs John Pappas gave the task force data on Mississippians currently participating in online sports betting in other states. Since the college football season began two months ago, the company has tracked more than 64,000 online accounts. In that time, GeoComply, which provides geolocation services for several online sports betting operators, has identified more than 1.7 million geolocation transactions. While users could still access their accounts to view odds, set up accounts or make deposits or withdrawals, they were blocked from placing bets.
And more in-state residents are signing up with out-of-state sports betting apps, Pappas said. Compared to the start of last year’s NFL season, the number of new accounts created rose by 37% this year.
If other states are any indication, those existing online accounts would represent the tip of the iceberg for the actual Mississippi online sports betting market. For example, GeoComply tracked more than 180,000 active accounts in Kentucky before the General Assembly legalized sports betting in the Bluegrass State earlier this year.