Mississippi to Study Online Gambling Again

Mississippi to Study Online GamblingA task force has been commissioned in Mississippi to study online gaming in the three regulated states to determine its feasibility within the Magnolia State.

Revenue from Mississippi’s land-based gaming establishments has hit the skids in recent years, with declining numbers in 22 of the previous 24 months, according to the Clarion-Ledger. The slumping revenue has been punctuated by the recent closing of the Harrah’s Casino in Tunica.

Competition from brick and mortar gambling in neighboring states is seen as the culprit, much the same as has happened in New Jersey where the Garden State is mired in a seven-year downward spiral in revenue. Also like New Jersey, Mississippi may elect to legalize online gambling in order to offset some of the losses seen in land-based gaming revenue.

Mississippi Rep. Bobby Moak has introduced igaming legislation for three years running. Each time, his proposals have failed to emerge out of committee. Perhaps the Harrah’s closing and results from the online gambling study put in place by Mississippi House Gaming Committee Chairman Richard Bennett will prompt lawmakers to take a closer look at the potential revenue benefits from Internet wagering.

The task force will be headed by Mississippi Gaming Commission executive director Allen Godfrey, who was appointed by Bennett. There is no indication yet of how long the study may take or if Mississippi might possibly join the other three states in enacting igaming legislation this year. But the fact that online gambling will be scrutinized is certainly a step in the right direction.

Moak’s proposals set tax rates on gaming operators at 5% and would require those operators to be selected from companies that already hold land-based gambling licenses. The pro-online gambling lawmaker is well aware that Mississippi residents are gambling online at unregulated sites and envisions regulations in order to both increase revenue and protect his constituents.

What the task force will find is that regulated online gambling in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware has not met initial projections. Also, there were a number of problems with credit card deposits not being accepted by financial institutions, as well as geolocation issues that kept some within the regulated states from logging on.

But on the bright side, revenue is coming in and is making a difference in the declining land-based numbers, particularly in New Jersey. And despite revenue expectations being adjusted to lower levels in those states, Mississippi would be well-advised to put online gambling parameters in place before falling behind possible initiatives of nearby states.

With 2014 land-based gaming revenue in Mississippi more than 10% less than this time last year, state lawmakers are likely eager to hear the recommendations of the task force study. A recent study undertaken in Pennsylvania showed that online gambling does not cannibalize land-based operations, which is a major concern of those within the industry.

Perhaps Moak will have more ammunition to convince his colleagues of the benefits of igaming legislation following the conclusion of the task force’s research. He has vowed to keep trying to get his proposals approved and he may soon succeed if brick and mortar igaming revenue keeps falling in Mississippi.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett