Mississippi starts the conversation about legalizing online betting

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Mississippi was one of the first states to legalize retail sports betting but it is taking its time and weighing its options when it comes to expanding to allow for online wagering within the state.

Part of that process included the formation of the Mississippi Mobile Sports Betting Task Force. The group of 13 consists of lawmakers, appointees, and Mississippi Gaming Commission Director Jay McDaniel.

Some casino owners worried about retail betting cannibalization

On Tuesday, the group heard testimony from a range of witnesses both in favor of and opposing sports betting expansion in the state. Members of the task force also offered a plurality of opinions. DraftKings Director of Legal and Government Affairs Kevin Cochran offered context on how DraftKings and other operators have worked in other markets, while Riverwalk Casino-Hotel General Manager Cathy Beeding expressed concerns about online betting’s potential cannibalization of retail revenues.

Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel President and COO Susan Barnes presented and also expressed concerns about the uptick in Mississippi casino revenue experienced after retail betting was legalized in 2018.

The 90/10 split between online and retail betting in states that offer both was a number that alarmed several attendees, but there is actually little research and data that indicates how much online betting actually eats into retail betting’s potential.

GeoComply’s Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs John Pappas also presented geolocation data to show how many residents of Mississippi are traveling to bordering states with online betting to wager. The company logged over 1.7 million geolocation checks from within the state at the start of this football season accessing sports betting apps live in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Debate over how many skins Mississippi casinos should receive

While some casino operators like Barnes were opposed to online betting expansion, Boyd Gaming Director of Governmental Affairs Ashley Menou Center advocated for two skins for each operator. Boyd Gaming, while it does not operate sports betting directly, benefits from market access deals for its properties in states like Iowa, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The company also owns a small percentage of FanDuel, its partner in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Indiana.

If the state adopted a two-skin per casino model, that would open up as many as 60 sports betting operators across the state’s 30 casino properties. Center argued that more brands spurred more competition and innovation. Cochran echoed those sentiments, pointing to neighboring Arkansas, a state DraftKings does not operate in, as a state not living up to its revenue potential because its tax structure has left most major operators choosing to skip entering the state.

Online casino legislation remains on the backburner

What casino operators were in near-unanimous agreement on was that any push for an online betting bill in 2024 should not include online casino legislation.

Penn Entertainment’s Director, Public Affairs & Government Relations Jason Tosches summed up the company’s sentiments by stating:

“While we support for iCasino for all the same reasons that we support online sports betting, I want to be clear that we are not advocating for iCasino to be put in this online sports betting legislation. I think we have broad alignment on that across maybe all or a significant majority of Mississippi’s casinos. I don’t necessarily think that would be helpful to getting online sports betting.”

What might also complicate matters for online betting expansions are the questions already rising among state lawmakers around whether or not this expansion would require a county-by-county voter referendum on the matter.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Rep. Casey Eure told the task force he intends to introduce a bill next year and tht he hopes to discuss the potential contents of that bill at the next task force meeting.