Mississippi legislators are expected to make another run at bringing mobile sports betting to the state in 2024, but what will be included in any bill remains unclear.
The Mobile Online Betting Task Force, a joint legislative committee established through legislature passed earlier this year, met for the first time on Tuesday (October 24) and took input from casino operators in the state, as well as from potential mobile operators and suppliers.
Republican Representative Casey Eure, the co-chairman of the committee, said he intends to introduce new legislation next year, and among the topics of conversation at Tuesday's meeting was what should be included in that bill.
“Things have changed since [last year]. I can’t sit here and tell you for sure that it’s going to pass the House and I’m going to be able to send it to the Senate, but I wanted everybody to know where I stood from day one,” Eure said.
Currently, the state permits land-based sports betting at a licensed casino, as well as mobile wagering on-property but does not allow mobile wagering on a state-wide basis.
John Pappas, senior vice president of government and public affairs for GeoComply, said that the company has identified more than 1.7m geolocation checks from people within Mississippi seeking to access sportsbooks from other states since the beginning of the 2023 college and NFL football seasons.
“We also know that individuals in Mississippi may try to wager on their phone or access an online app on their phone and can’t place a wager, they don't just quit,” Pappas said.
“In many cases, we see that they travel across state lines, every day we’ve seen multiple thousands of attempts …where people have tried to travel into Tennessee or Louisiana to place a bet because they were unable to in Mississippi.”
Operators speaking in favor of legalizing mobile sports wagering included Penn Entertainment and Boyd Gaming, as well as online operator DraftKings.
“We believe it is a meaningful opportunity to grow the state's gaming industry, generate new tax revenue and ensure responsible gaming measures are in place to create a safe and trusted wagering environment,” said Jason Tosches, director of public affairs and government relations for Penn.
“In fact, a significant majority of Mississippi casinos are in favor of online sports betting.”
However, not all of them are in favor, as several independent operators spoke out against legalizing mobile wagering.
“As an independent operator, we have concerns about creating legislation that has unintended consequences,” said Susan Varnes, president of Treasure Bay Casino in Biloxi.
“As we sat down and looked at draft legislation and legislation in other areas and jurisdictions, I personally have more questions than I have answers and listening to many of the presentations already before me, they have some of those same questions on how legislation would be crafted.”
Varnes expressed concerns about problem gambling monitoring in mobile betting compared to on a retail gaming floor.
“Although there may be things put in place to authenticate and everything else, regardless of those mechanisms, mobile sports betting will not offer the same securities against problem gaming and minors that retail sports betting and face-to-face interaction can give,” she said.
Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino, also expressed opposition to a mobile sports-betting bill, out of concern that it would simply be a stepping stone to further online gaming expansion.
“The bottom line is, it’s been demonstrated in multiple states, and I think it’s actually been stated by some of the leadership in the larger organizations, is that this is only a half-step to iGaming,” Crosby said.
“And anyone in the industry that tells me different, bull----,” he added. “It’s just not the case.”
Tosches said that although Penn did support online casino as a general matter, it was not pushing for online casino as part of this legislative effort in Mississippi.
“While we support iCasino for all the same reasons that we're advocating for online sports betting, I want to be clear that we are not advocating for iCasino to be put in this online sports-betting legislation,” he said.
“I think we have broad alignment on that point across maybe all or a significant majority of Mississippi's casinos, who don't necessarily think that would be helpful to getting online sports betting.”
Senator David Blount, a Democrat and the committee’s co-chairman, asked members to return ahead of the task force’s next meeting on November 13 with examples from other states that the committee should address in potential legislation.
“One thing that I've been continually frustrated about up here is that everyone may not agree on an issue, but we all need to agree on what the bill says, that everybody agrees on what the bill does or doesn’t do, even if everyone doesn’t agree with what that intention is,” Blount said.
Shawn Fluharty, a Democratic representative from West Virginia who is president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, advised the committee that one issue his state did not address that Mississippi should consider is the potential for media insiders to gain an edge.
“I think we didn't know about potential market manipulation,” Fluharty said, pointing out the tie-up between Penn and sports media giant ESPN as an example.
“That’s a big deal, and there’s a lot of power in that deal,” Fluharty said.
“If you’re an ESPN analyst, you have insider information, and now you’re placing bets through the ESPN app, I think there needs to be transparency. And I think it’s something that’s at the top of the line when you see a deal like this take place.”