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Mississippi Gambling Online


Mississippi may not have the clout of a Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but it has still become one of the most prominent gambling destinations in the United States. Over the past two decades, casinos have taken root throughout the state, particularly on the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River. But the history of gaming here goes back for centuries, even if it has never been more critical to the state than it is today.

Long History, Recent Expansion

Gambling has a long history in Mississippi, one that began hundreds or possibly even thousands of years ago with Native American tribes in the region. Later, in the 1700s French colonists brought card games and more to the region.

In the modern era, however, gambling got off to a slow start here. Throughout the South, lotteries were slow to take hold, and Mississippi remains one of just six states that do not have lotteries to this day.

But while we may have skipped the traditional first step towards full-scale gambling expansion, that didn’t mean we weren’t willing to grow the industry in other ways. In 1987, at least one cruise ship began offering games by leaving from Biloxi and not beginning any real money play until they hit international waters. There was initially some resistance to the idea, but by 1989, legislators approved this form of cruise ship gaming.

It wouldn’t be long before the interest in casinos became much broader. In 1990, the Gaming Control Act was passed, allowing dockside venues to spring up both along the coast and the river. Originally, only riverboats were imagined, but it quickly became apparent that the industry would grow far beyond the confines of such old-fashioned vessels.

Developers planned for the resorts that were being built to be constructed on barges, so that they would confirm to the letter of the laws that had been passed. But the legislation was less restrictive than many feared, and more straightforward land-based designs were ultimately created, albeit only in the locations where they had been approved.

In 1992, casinos began to open up in Biloxi, Tunica County, and other locations. By the end of 1994, the industry had exploded beyond anyone’s expectations: more than 30 casinos had opened, bringing in so much revenue that many referred to the experience as the “Mississippi Miracle.”

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Katrina Rocks Industry

The first serious challenge for the casino industry came in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. Ironically, in that same year, lawmakers had begun to question what could be done in order to protect the riverboat and dockside casinos from a serious hurricane; moving them away from the shoreline was impossible under the laws, but the new rules would allow some engineering efforts to protect resorts against flooding and storm surges, even if it moves them technically off of where the original law said they should be.

But Katrina arrived well before any such measures could be taken. After the storm ripped through the area, not a single casino was still operational on the Gulf Coast, with many of the barges having floated inland, causing yet more damage in their wake.

Because the gambling industry had become so important, it was given special consideration in the aftermath of the hurricane. Lawmakers allowed operators to now build up to several hundred feet inland, a move that would still effectively limit where these venues could be placed, while also protecting them against the impact of another catastrophic hurricane.

Today, the industry isn’t quite as strong here as it was before the storm, both because of the aftermath and the 2008 recession. There are still more than 30 casinos spread throughout Mississippi, including three operated by Native American tribes. Biloxi and Tunica Resorts remain the most active destinations for gamblers, even if they are not quite as popular as they were a decade earlier.

Online Play Generates Talk, But Little Action

You might not expect a southern state such as Mississippi to be at the forefront of online gambling activity, and to a certain extent, you’d be right. However, the state has at least considered the idea of regulating Internet casino games and poker, and the issue has been brought up in the legislature in recent years.

The most prominent proponent may be Representative Bobby Moak, who has introduced legislation to regulate the industry on multiple occasions. There has been little to no movement on his bills, but it does seem to have had the effect of starting a conversation. The state gaming commission has issued reports on the subject, and a committee has studied how iGaming might impact the existing casino sector here, with some saying it could be a step to help the resorts regain the success they first saw in the 1990s.

But while regulated online casinos in Mississippi may not be a part of the landscape here anytime soon, that doesn’t mean that players are out of luck if they want to play online. As a so-called “grey market,” many trusted operators still offer Internet gaming here, even if they can’t earn a license in the state. And with no rules or laws punishing individuals who choose to play on these sites, many Mississippians play for real money on such websites every day.

No Major Changes Forecast

It is unlikely that any dramatic changes will be coming to the land-based industry anytime soon, but a more subtle shift is already underway. In 2014, new requirements were put into place for any new casino developments, with an emphasis put on how much non-gaming must be available at each resort. If you’re going to build in the state now, there are standards for the size and quality of adjoining hotels, dining options, and other amenities. Already, new venues have been developed to reach these increased standards.

When it comes to online casinos, we don’t expect any real movement to occur here over the next few years. That said, Mississippi may be among the most likely of the “Deep South” states to regulate iGaming in the future. The interest is obviously there, and as a whole, lawmakers and industry officials haven’t seemed outright hostile to the idea. Should it be decided that something new is necessary to help revitalize the brick and mortar locations in the state, allowing them to offer additional gaming on the Internet could quickly turn into an idea with a lot of support.

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