Which Forms of Gambling Are Legal In The State Of Mississippi?
When you mention Mississippi and gambling together, images of steam-powered river boat casinos immediately spring to mind – complete with cheats and card sharps. For much of its recent history, Mississippi was very dry for gamblers. Nowadays you can enjoy a huge choice of casinos, many with poker rooms, or charity gaming. There is no Horse racing betting, lottery or provision for private social games in this State. This article looks in details at the Mississippi gambling laws.
First below, you will find a quick-fire overview of the key historical moments in the development of gambling in Mississippi. After this a run-through of the types of gambling, with notes on the status of each can be found. Next things get detailed – with excerpts from the statutes and a legal timeline – before a summary and look into the future at the end.
Racing and lotteries were in place in the 1700’s, before Mississippi even became a State. In fact the rampant lotteries which involved many Southern States led to the initial anti-gambling wording on the statutes here.
The heyday of this region as a trading hub saw the boom of the Riverboat casinos, steamboats which cruised up and down the Mississippi river offering entertainment and gambling games. While it is common for memories of this era to involve cheats and card-sharps, there were 100’s of boats enjoying repeat custom for decades – indicating that the experience for individuals was generally a positive one.
In 1861 the Civil war put a temporary stop to these casino boats, and they never really recovered to their former glory. As the prohibition era hit, gambling would disappear underground in this State for the best part of 100 years.
1990 was the start of the next phase in the development of gambling in this State, and saw the ‘Gaming Control Act’ signed which legalized casinos in coastal and riverside counties, as long as the residents of each county agreed. New boats were in place shortly afterward and this snowballed into the huge choice of venues that Mississippi residents enjoy today.
Other than casinos and live poker games, the only other gambling format that you can enjoy in this State is charitable bingo and raffles. No horse-racing or lottery betting is allowed. Two curious quirks to the gambling laws make Pinball machines illegal as gambling devices and allows betting on fights between dogs. Presumably animal cruelty laws prohibit those fights nowadays!
Casino Games: Yes, there are many casinos in Mississippi offering a full range of games, these include tribal casinos and the (now docked) riverboat casinos.
Online Casinos: No, the wide definitions in the Mississippi anti-gambling statutes are considered to cover this area.
Live Poker: Yes, there are poker card rooms in many casinos. Social poker games are not explicitly covered in this State – though there is no history of prosecution for players in small stakes home games.
Online Poker: No, a bill was introduced in 2012, this did not make it to the floor. The fact that regulated online poker has even been discussed is seen as a positive sign that this State could join other States once the model has proved to be successful.
Sports Betting: None, not even a pari-mutuel bet on horse racing.
Lottery Betting: None, Mississippi is one of the few States which does not have any lottery provision. When the inter-State games get huge jackpots, many people cross over into neighboring States to buy tickets.
Bingo Games: Yes, charity bingo games and raffles are allowed and are regulated by the Mississippi gaming control board. There are bingo halls in many counties and individual events are also licensed on a one-off basis.
Compared to other States, there are a lot of clauses in the laws here, these are sometimes very specific and never very clear. The consensus is that despite all the exceptions and caveats, the main definition of betting is the key factor. What Mississippi seem to have done is to make betting on any game (other than dog fights – which seems to be a strange choice) illegal. They have then inserted a ton of very specific information on penalties and carve outs.
Here is the main definition:
If any person shall encourage, promote or play at any game, play or amusement, other than a fight or fighting match between dogs, for money or other valuable thing, or shall wager or bet, promote or encourage the wagering or betting of any money or other valuable things, upon any game, play, amusement… “
It is also a crime under the Statutes to own gambling devices and to exhibit them in public, for example card tables would fall under this law.
Curiously, if you are the winner of an illegal gambling game, then you get to pay a fine based on your winnings. Since the proceeds are presumably confiscated during any raid, this could turn a great night into a really expensive one.
1790’s: Before the State of Mississippi was even created there was a racetrack on the territory created by early French settlers where betting took place.
1800’s: This was the heyday of the River Boat Casinos, with 100’s plying the river offering gambling games. The tales of card sharps and cheats endure to this day – though the fact that so many people enjoyed these boats for so many years would indicate that they were only a minor issue. The Civil war temporarily stopped these cruises, and they never recovered to their former glory afterwards.
1938: Slots and Pinball machines outlawed.
1990: The Mississippi Gaming Control Act is signed, legalizing riverboat gambling in counties on the coast or next to the river. The residents of each county would need to approve any plans. This allows riverboat casinos to return. These would be allowed to remain docked from 1992.
1992: The Charitable Bingo Act was signed, allowing licensed bingo and raffle type games for good causes.
1992: This year also saw the signing of a compact with the Choctaws for class 3 games (slots and table games).
2012: Bill introduced to legalize online poker by Representative Bobby Moak, unfortunately this died early in the legislative process and did not make it to a vote. Moak indicated that he would try again, though no new bill has appeared as of 2014.
Things were very quiet in Mississippi for more than 100 years before the 1990 Gaming Control Act. Nowadays there is a huge choice of regulated casinos – including tribal properties. This contrasts sharply with the lack of lottery betting or horse-racing, both of which are both popular in neighboring States.
Early attempts at regulating online gambling here are seen as a positive for proponents of this area, even though the 2012 bill failed. Simply discussing regulating the internet side of gambling is much more than many other States have managed. It remains to be seen whether any new bill will be introduced on this subject in 2014.
Charity / Bingo Laws
Biloxi Historical Society (Fascinating Timeline)
Gaming Commission FAQs