Last month, Mississippi State Representative Bobby Moak made headlines once again by introducing legislation aimed at the regulation of online poker. Much like his previous attempts over the last three years, the online poker bill, known as HB 306, “The Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2015”, suffered an unceremonious death, not even a month after hitting the table.
Internet card players in the Magnolia State shouldn’t be too disappointed. Even Rep. Moak himself had no real hopes that the bill would make it very far. In fact, every news source that reported the bill’s appearance on January 12, 2015 seemed to offer the same consensus. Lawmakers simply aren’t ready to support a measure to regulate online poker or casino style gambling.
|Having introduced online gaming legislation in 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, Rep. Moak still isn’t discouraged by the repeated failures. In fact, he says he never intended for his online poker bill to succeed. The idea was to keep a discussion on the table and help broaden the minds of his fellow legislators with each new year.According to a recent phone interview, the Democrat believes regulation of iGaming could have a plausible chance in 2016, but it’s going to take some remarkable changes in state legislature to get there, and not just in Mississippi either.
“My Republican colleagues have not been moving very much at all concerning gaming,” said Rep. Moak. “They haven’t looked at doing any of the incentives that some other businesses get, and we’ve got to create some opportunities to help the bottom lines for gaming houses.”
Competition from neighboring states has taken a heavy toll on Mississippi’s gaming industry. Last year alone, two of the state’s casinos were forced to shut down due to receding revenue. And despite a palpable need for modifications to the gambling market, the online poker bill’s failure marks the third time Moak’s measure hasn’t gotten enough attention to invoke hearings on the topic.
Ostensibly, Mississippi lawmakers are turned off from the idea of internet gambling regulation by the slow progress in states where online poker and/or casino gaming has already been legalized. Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey haven’t exactly presented glorious results from their respective iGaming markets, all of which launched sometime in 2013. But Rep. Moak doesn’t think that should have any bearing on the Magnolia State’s decision to contemplate regulation.
“We all know the numbers [in legal iGaming states] weren’t as huge as some people thought they would be,” said Moak, “but my position on Internet gaming is just to give the industry options it needs in this changing market. It’s another tool they should have.”
With a population of just under 3 million, comparable to that of Nevada, the Representative admitted that Mississippi isn’t large enough to support a lucrative internet gambling market by itself. It would take shared liquidity with other iGaming states to make a real impact on the state’s potential revenue.
With that in mind, one of the reasons he projected a more positive outlook in 2016 is the potential regulation of online poker in California this year. “If you have a large, populous state like California that theoretically we could compact with, you have to see how that helps your industry here in Mississippi,” explained Rep. Moak. “If those states that have population get into online gaming, that should be an impetus to help states like Mississippi move their legislation forward.”