In terms of size and population, Mississippi is a relatively average US state. It has the 32nd largest land mass and 31st highest population of 2,994,079 (est. 2014). Speckled with nearly a dozen major lakes and rivers, including its namesake, the Mississippi River, the Magnolia State is mostly made up of low-lying, coastal plains. Being a primarily agricultural state, the economy has struggled relentlessly, dating nearly as far back as the end of the Civil War, due to seasonal flooding. With a great need for additional state funds, the topic of regulating online poker has risen more than once in the Mississippi legislature.
There is a multitude of riverboat casinos and tribal gaming facilities throughout the state With 3 million residents to draw from, there’s no lack of would-be online poker players in Mississippi. Some politicians are well aware of that fact, having made consistent attempts to regulate online gaming in hopes of generating those much needed supplementary tax dollars. Unfortunately, four online poker bills have been introduced in as many years, and they’ve each gained about as much traction as a newborn foal on ice.
Since State Representative Bobby Moak’s latest Mississippi online poker bill, HB 306, (officially titled The Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2015), died in early February, we can quickly surmise that online poker is not specifically legal in the Magnolia State. However, a lack of authorization does not particularly insinuate that the activity is prohibited. To determine whether online poker is actually illegal in Mississippi, we must examine the current status of gambling and the laws surrounding the industry.
Land-based Gambling in Mississippi
It’s location on the most industrially trafficked river in the United States has evolved into a long history of gambling in Mississippi that dates back several centuries to the days when Native American tribes ruled the land. In some ways, not much has changed. Land-based gambling is illegal in the state, but thanks to the IGRA of 1988 that gave recognized Native American tribes limited rights to run gambling facilities, there are three tribal casinos in operation. All of the other casinos in Mississippi are of the riverboat variety.
Deciphering the Laws of Mississippi as they relate to Online Poker
The Mississippi Code is very clear in its evaluation of unlawful gambling activities. The following text is taken directly from Title 97, Chapter 33, as it may relate to the legality of online poker.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|§ 97-33-1 Betting Gaming or Wagering; exception from prohibition; penalty||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, cockfight, Indian ball play or duel, other than a fight or fighting match between dogs, or upon the result of any election, event or contingency whatever, upon conviction thereof, he shall be fined in a sum not more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00); and, unless such fine and costs be immediately paid, shall be imprisoned for any period not more than ninety (90) days. However, this section shall not apply to betting, gaming or wagering:||Any type of wager (except on dog fighting) is illegal and punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to $500 fine. Poker is not excluded as a game of skill.
Note that an exemption is applied to land-based and riverboat casinos that are licensed, authorized and abiding by all applicable laws of the state and county in which they are operating.
|(d) That is legal under the laws of the State of Mississippi.||All forms of gambling in Mississippi are illegal unless explicitly authorized by law.|
|§ 97-33-17 Gambling; money and appliances forfeited; exceptions.||(1) All monies exhibited for the purpose of betting or alluring persons to bet at any game, and all monies staked or betted, shall be liable to seizure by any sheriff, constable, or police officer, together with all the appliances used or kept for use in gambling, or by any other person; and all the monies so seized shall be accounted for by the person making the seizure, and all appliances seized shall be destroyed.||If convicted of playing illegal online poker, all money wagered/won may be confiscated by the state. The appliance (i.e. computer, laptop or mobile device) used to play may be seized and destroyed.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Mississippi?
No. While words like “online” or “internet” do not appear in the precise text of the Mississippi’s gambling laws, the ambiguity of the text encompasses every form of gambling. Thus online gambling must be included by default. There can be no exemption for poker as a game of skill because gambling is not specifically defined within the Mississippi Code. Therefore any “game” that is gambled upon in any way is considered betting or wagering. And if it’s not expressly legal in Mississippi, it is illegal.
Helping to support that conclusion is the Q&A on the FAQ page of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
Under the question, “Is internet gambling legal?”, the following response is given.
|“No. Internet gambling is illegal under state law.
“Online sites may advertise they are “legal” and “licensed” forms of gaming. They may be legal or licensed where the bets are received, but it is illegal to place bets from Mississippi with these businesses.”
Is Mississippi working to Legalize Online Poker?
Yes. Democratic State Representative Bobby Moak has introduced a measure to legalize and regulate internet gaming, including online poker, for the last four years straight. However, gaining support for the bill has been incredibly difficult. As Moak pointed out himself, there is little or no support from his republican colleagues. Being named the “most religious state” in the US since 2011 isn’t helping matters, either.
Working in favor of future legislation is the fact that Mississippi, and its current gambling industry, is in desperate need of generating more revenue, hampered further by growing competition in nearby states. Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey have already regulated online poker, and while they haven’t harvested nearly as much money as originally predicted, player pooling compacts could soon become a reality.
Even Rep. Moak said that it would take shared liquidity with other states to launch a successful iGaming market in the Magnolia State, and the sooner that becomes a reality, the sooner Mississippi will become likely to move ahead with online poker regulation.
Online Poker Players from Mississippi
Due to the current legal status of online poker in Mississippi, there aren’t too many players who make their true identities known. A few of the more successful players we do know of are John “highpothead” / “Cellar Door” LaJeune, Brendan “IVExodusVI” McEneaney and Daniel “NasEscobarred” / “AnTe_Up1399” Ford.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Mississippi
Of the more than three dozen gambling establishments in Mississippi, only three are truly land-based casinos. All of them are owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, with one location in Sandersville and two more in Choctaw, MS.
Bok Homa Casino
Location: Sandersville, MS
Poker Room: No
Golden Moon Casino
Location: Choctaw, MS
Poker Room: Yes
Silver Star Casino
Location: Choctaw, MS
Poker Room: Yes