Mississippi Gambling

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Mississippi Online Gambling Bill Dies Two Weeks After Being Introduced

mississippi gamblingLong known for its cotton fields, steamy summers, and as the epicenter of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Americans think of Mississippi, they think of the “Bible Belt.” Many residents live their lives according to the Bible’s teachings and to what their preacher says on Sunday.

That religious vigor also inevitably extends to the state capitol in Jackson, where Bible thumpers and politicians mix and mingle, and are often one and the same. And when it comes to changes in law concerning anything remotely controversial, both the Bible thumpers (those who are anti-gambling, anyhow) and the politicians come out in force.

Such was the case when Mississippi Rep. Bobby Moak introduced the Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2018, or House Bill 1373[1], in February 2018. Moak sang praises for the bill, arguing that legalizing online gambling would curtail the abuse of such activity by underage players while protecting those who were of legal age to participate, all while ensuring that the games were legitimate and fair to players. Furthermore, Moak said that the legalization of online gambling would provide new revenue while reducing or stopping altogether the flow of illegal income to overseas facilitators.

His proposed bill would require a $100,000 deposit by site operators followed by an initial licensing fee of $200,000 and a $100,000 yearly renewal thereafter. Additional rules and promises included tested and approved software, proof of identity for participants, zero liability for operators if they reasonably believed players were of age then were found not to be.[2]

As good as all of this sounded to the pro-gambling crowd, Moak’s bill sputtered and died in the House Ways and Means Committee only two weeks after he introduced it. Following the bill’s unceremonious demise, Moak was not entirely surprised. “We’re in a state that is so politically charged anytime you are going to discuss gaming issues, liquor issues, or any so-called ‘sin’ issue.” [3]However, state lawmakers and anti-gambling lobbyists know the rate at which gambling has been growing in Mississippi since it was legalized in 1990, and there is little doubt that the issue will resurface. Online gambling legislation is dead in Mississippi for this year, but it is highly likely that Moak will revive it for the 2018 session.

Gambling expansion in the form of a state lottery in the Magnolia State was also met with indifference and disinterest by legislators and Gov. Phillip Bryant earlier this year, which means that Mississippi residents who had hoped to stay within state borders to play the lottery will have to continue traveling to neighboring states such as Tennessee. Mississippi is one of only seven states in the U.S. that does not have a lottery. Rep. Trey Lamar said a measure to allow lottery sales just doesn’t have the support right now, and that many still feel like a lottery is an unfair tax on the poor. “For a lot of folks it amounts to a poor tax,” Lamar said, “exploiting people who don’t need to spend money on a risky venture. I think that’s one of the main negatives against the lottery in Mississippi.”[4]

The Mississippi House Gaming Committee last attempted to push lottery legislation through in 2010, but committee members couldn’t convince Rep. Moak, yes, the same representative who proposed online gambling legislation in 2018, to bring the lottery proposal up for a vote. At the time, Moak said disinterest from the governor’s office (Hayley Barbour was governor at the time) influenced his decision. “The governor is opposed to a lottery,” Moak said. “I’m not sure the Senate would even touch it if it ever got over there. So you’re swimming upstream in a very strong current.”[5] Much like the online gambling issue, a state lottery is something state legislators will have to revisit if Mississippi is ever to see the revenue spike that other nearby states enjoy because of their legalized lotteries. In addition to lacking a state lottery, Mississippi is one of almost a dozen states that do not allow wagering on horse racing.

Ishtaboli, Riverboats And Tunica–Mississippi’s Long History Of Gambling

Back in the days when the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians inhabited what is now Mississippi, they frequently wagered on a sport called ishtaboli, a stick ball-like game similar to a rougher version of lacrosse and football combined. By the time the area was settled by the Europeans, gambling had grown in popularity. French settlers often enjoyed card games and billiards. And just about everyone has heard or read stories about the gambling that occurred on riverboats. By the latter half of the eighteenth century, horse racing took a foothold after the Fleetfield Race Track was built in Natchez in 1795. Once Mississippi achieved statehood in 1817, the population grew and, with it, so did gambling. Hotels offered various gambling options, especially resort destinations such as Biloxi and hotels along the Gulf Coast. Interestingly enough, however, gambling was made illegal in 1942. Illegal gambling establishments raged in popularity until a group of preachers banded together in 1951 to thwart the illegal activity, when in reality all they did was push the gaming further underground.[6] [7]

Gambling in the Hospitality State did not become legalized until the legislature passed the Mississippi Gaming Control Act of 1990. The passage of this act “legalized casinos as long as they were along the Mississippi River or Gulf Coast.” Not long after that, the Mississippi Gaming Commission was formed to oversee all gambling operations in the state. Casinos sprang up along the river and along the coast, and when land-based casinos were legalized in 2005, Mississippi became one of the most popular gambling destinations in the Southeast, including nine in Tunica alone. So far in 2018, the Mississippi General Fund has received more than $151 million in revenue from gaming.[8]

Future Of Online Gambling Not Promising At Present

Casino gambling has been legal in Mississippi for more than 20 years. But don’t count on the Mississippi legislature passing online gambling regulations anytime soon. When the Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2018 died before making it out of the first committee, that was a strong indication that legislators in the heart of the Bible Belt are not yet ready to support a measure that will permit Mississippians to freely gamble from their own homes with a few simple mouse clicks. The mindset of many in the Magnolia State is that gambling is, and always will be, a sinful tax on the poor. Other states such as Florida and Illinois may soon join Delaware and Nevada in enacting online gambling legislation. But Mississippi, more likely than not, will remain one of the states reluctant to change and allow Internet gambling.

Article Sources and References

Lawful Internet Gaming Act – House Bill 1373 – MS State Legislature
Mississippi online gambling bill fails at committee – PokerNewsDaily.com
Mississippi gambling bill dies in spite of DOJ flip flop on Wire Act by CardPlayer.com
Mississippians Eye Chances for State Lottery by ABC24.com
Mississippi lottery to face stiff opposition – CommericalAppeal.com
The history of gambling in Mississippi by the GamblingWiz
Mississippi state gambling laws – Ehow.com
Tax revenues from gaming in Mississippi in 2011/2018 by MS.gov site