As interest in online sports betting grows in Mississippi, casinos in the state are split on the issue.
The Mississippi legislature’s Mobile Online Sports Betting Task Force met Tuesday to hear from a variety of gaming industry sources, including in-state casino operators who are opposed to statewide online expansion of sports betting in Mississippi, which launched in 2018. Mississippi has sports betting on casino properties only, including geofenced mobile.
Other casino operators acknowledge the opportunity statewide online sports betting presents in the state. Regardless of casino positions, Rep. Casey Eure said he will introduce online sports betting legislation next session and at the task force’s November 13 meeting, it will discuss the details of the bill.
“I’ve already publicly said that I will have a bill that I will introduce,” Eure said. “Now, I can’t sit here and tell you for sure that it’s gonna pass the House and I’ll be able to send it to the Senate, but I wanted everybody to know where I stood from day one.”
Growing interest in online MS sports betting
As more states open up for online sports betting, Mississippians are taking note. There was a 37% year-over-year increase in online accounts created in Mississippi in the month following the 2023 NFL kickoff, according to John Pappas, GeoComply senior vice president of government and public affairs.
From August 27 to October 22, there were 1.72 million geolocation checks from 64,000 accounts in Mississippi. Of those accounts, 67.9% of the checks were tied to Tennessee sportsbook accounts.
Another 27.7% attempted to access Louisiana sportsbooks.
Mississippi casinos split on online
There were five casino operator representatives in attendance, and there was no consensus opinion on the expansion to statewide mobile sports betting. The smaller casino operators, however, were adamant statewide mobile would hurt them and leave them at a disadvantage.
“This unfettered growth will be dominated by a few operators, and our chance to compete with that is zero,” Palace Casino General Manager Keith Crosby said. “It’s a small margin, small profit thing. But it’s also a feature that we compete with, like a poker room. It’s not going to blow the doors off on the revenue side, but it brings people in.”
Among the smaller operators, there was some interest in a model like Arkansas, which keeps at least 51% of revenue with local casinos. That regulation has kept major operators like DraftKings and FanDuel out of the market.
Drain on casino revenue?
Treasure Bay President and COO Susan Varnes said sports betting helped boost overall casino revenue, but that the approximate 90% mobile market share seen across US sports betting could ultimately be a drain on guests visiting properties if it is similar in Mississippi.
The potential negative effect on local operators is also an issue for some legislators.
“My primary concern is how to make sure that we don’t do anything that jeopardizes the destination gaming product that Mississippi gaming has been built on,” Sen. Mike Thomas said.
Perceived negative impact on in-person operations
Rather than take from existing customers, Penn Entertainment director of public affairs and government relations Jason Tosches told the task force statewide mobile would draw from a new pool.
“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.”
Boyd Gaming director of governmental affairs Ashley Center testified against in-person registration, which smaller casino representatives preferred if the industry were to expand. Despite Boyd’s 5% stake in FanDuel, Center advocated for at least two online skins per casino property.
“Bringing in more brands into the market makes it more robust and competitive,” Center said. “The more skin opportunities, that’s one thing that creates balance among operators.”
Mississippi sports betting history
Legal sports betting in Mississippi began in August 2018, but is restricted to casino grounds. Since its debut, sportsbooks in the state have taken $2.3 billion in wagers and generated $265.9 million in sports betting revenue.
There have been multiple statewide mobile bills, but none gained much traction.
Task force duties heading into 2024
The task force is assigned to develop a report for legislators by December 15, heading into the 2024 session, which begins January 2.
Questions the task force will address include:
- Tax rate
- Use of tax revenue
- Licensing structure and fees
- Whether to offer a local referendum option
- In-state customer and technical support
- Advertising restrictions
- Increased criminal penalties for illegal operators
- In-person or mobile registration
The task force already agreed to tether online operators to casino licensees. Members also decided no iGaming language would be in the bill.