Gaming partner Tommy Shepherd was published in Law360 for his article, “Top 12 Mississippi Gaming Stories of 2016,” on December 23, 2016. The article is a retrospect on the gaming industry in Mississippi during the past year. Please click here to read the article or below to read the list. As is our custom, here in no particular order are our nominees for the top Mississippi gaming stories of 2016.
1. Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?
A bill passed the Mississippi Legislature authorizing (for only a year, due to a “sunset” provision) daily fantasy sports in the state. This legislation was a response to a Mississippi attorney general opinion in 2015 that ruled DFS illegal in the state. A task force mandated by the bill has yet to report its findings for the future of DFS in Mississippi beyond July 1, 2017, when the current legislation expires.
2. It’s All About the Numbers
As the Mississippi state budget tightens, opportunities for new revenues become more important. In a somewhat surprising move, in 2016 the Mississippi House passed an amendment to a bill simply authorizing a lottery (which died before passage by the full Legislature). However, this was the first time in history that a lottery bill had been approved by either house. Since then Gov. Phil Bryant has said he is open “to a general discussion about the implementation of a lottery in Mississippi,” and others such as Attorney General Jim Hood have expressed interest in considering a state lottery. Casinos and religious groups are likely to seriously oppose any such efforts.
3. Other People’s Money
With so much of Mississippi gaming revenues coming from visitors from out of state, the possibility of expanded gaming in other states is considered a serious threat to the Mississippi gaming industry. In 2016, Mississippi gaming leaders closely watched legal developments regarding gaming in Alabama (consideration of lottery legislation, the legality of “bingo” devices and an Indian gaming compact), in Arkansas (a proposed constitutional amendment to permit expanded gaming) and in Florida (litigation over expanded gaming and a compact with the Seminoles). While 2016 ended with a sigh of relief that none of those nearby state threats were successful, 2017 may bring new risks.
4. Count Us “In”
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood joined in the state of New Jersey’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision denying New Jersey the right to repeal a ban on sports betting at certain locations in the state. This is particularly interesting in that AG Hood is widely considered to be a candidate for governor of Mississippi in 2019.
5. Never Mind
After proposing a change to the Mississippi Gaming Commission regulations that would have opened up a host of new potential gaming sites along the Mississippi gulf coast and facing mounting opposition from the existing gaming industry and key state leaders, the commission abruptly withdrew the proposed amendments. Will legislative leaders adopt changes to the Mississippi Gaming Control Act to prevent this from happening in the future?
6. Silver Anniversary
The Mississippi gaming industry celebrated the beginning of 25 years of history with an August 2016 event in Biloxi involving the American Gaming Association and its President and CEO Geoff Freeman. Mississippi’s first casino opened on Aug. 1, 1992 in Biloxi. Since that time, Mississippi casinos have generated more than $6.5 billion in state tax revenues.
7. Goodbye and Hello!
The old DiamondJacks Hotel and Casino in Vicksburg changed hands and took a new name — the WaterView Casino and Hotel. New owners from the Foundation Gaming Group pledged renovations and new investment for the property which has gone through bankruptcy and suffered other issues over the years.
8. Back to the Future on Coast Gaming Developments
In 2016, many new Mississippi gulf coast developments were announced, gained momentum or achieved significant milestones. Renewed gaming development interest was shown in the cities of Gulfport (Island View announced its plan to develop a new casino south of Highway 90, and Mississippi Coast Entertainment entered into a casino development lease with the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission), Biloxi (Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation agreed to partner with Chris Ferrara on the Biloxi Boardwalks project), and Long Beach (developers looked to purchase the yacht club site for a casino).
9. Diamond in the Rough
The saga continues for control of Diamondhead Casino Corp. and its potential casino site in Hancock County, Mississippi. Creditors had forced the thinly traded public company into an involuntary bankruptcy in order to effect a change in management, but the Delaware bankruptcy court dismissed the petition.
Veteran Mississippi Gaming Commission Executive Director Allen Godfrey was named the “2016 Regulator of the Year for North America” by the International Masters of Gaming Law. In a long career in public service, Godfrey has served as executive director, deputy director and compliance director at the commission.
11. Coming Back
While Tunica gaming revenues continue to decline year over year, Mississippi gulf coast gaming revenues experience slow but consistent growth. For the first 10 months of 2016, gulf coast gaming revenues were up some $47,500,000 over the same time period in 2015 and were on track to provide gulf coast casinos with their best year since the Great Recession.
12. If at First You Don’t Succeed
Jacobs Entertainment and Diamondhead Realty LLC are attempting to gain approval of a controversial Diamondhead, Mississippi, casino site that has been rejected twice before by the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The commission is expected to consider the site once more in January of 2017.