Officials from both the Mississippi Gaming Commission and the Mississippi Lottery Corporation briefed Mississippi House’s Gaming Commission at a hearing Tuesday.
Allen Godfrey, the executive director of the Gaming Commission, told the committee that while statewide gaming revenues are down from a high in 2007 of nearly $3 billion, the numbers improved slightly in 2019. Casinos earned $2.2 billion in revenue, up from nearly $2.13 billion in 2018.
The commission divides the state’s casinos into three regions: Tunica (northwest Mississippi), Lower River Region (Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez) and the Coastal Region.
While revenues for the river cities increased from $293 million in 2018 to $304 million in 2019 and improved from $1.24 billion on the coast in 2018 to $1.31 billion in 2019, revenues from the Tunica casinos declined from $592 million in 2018 to $582 million in 2019.
Most recently, Penn National Gaming closed the Resorts Casino Tunica on June 30 as the number of casinos in Tunica shrank from nine to six.
The gaming commission regulates more casinos (26) with a smaller staff (110 full-time employees) and a smaller budget ($9.2 million) than Louisiana (20 casinos, 178 employees), Indiana (13 casinos, 218 employees) and Pennsylvania (16 casinos, 305 employees).
Since 2010, the numbers of casinos has declined from 30 to 26 and the workforce declined from 24,000 employees to 19,000.
As for the lottery, corporation president Thomas Shaheen said that the lottery was able to start earlier than its planned December launch of scratch-off tickets and has a goal of paying off its starter loan of $15 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
He also said the lottery has generated sales of $12.4 million for the week that ended on February 8, with $10.9 million of that coming from scratch-off tickets. Despite only being on sale for a couple of weeks, Mega Millions ($672,677) and Powerball ($818,468) are already off a strong start.
Year to date, the lottery has generated $112 million in sales.
Shaheen said that the sales of the two will increase considerably when there are large jackpots at stake. He also said lottery tickets are for sale in all but one of the state’s 82 counties, but the lone holdout, Issaquena County, has a retailer application going through the background checks required before approval.
The lottery was authorized by an amendment to the state’s constitution in 1994, but it took until the 2018 special session of the legislature for the legislation to make it to the governor’s desk for signature.
It is supposed to provide the first $80 million in revenues for the State Highway Fund, with the excess going to the Education Enhancement Fund. Retailers will receive a six percent commission.
The gaming briefing was supposed to be a joint hearing with the Senate Gaming Committee, but debate on a controversial bill in the Senate kept the Senate members from attending.
That bill, Senate Bill 2257, would allow the State Auditor’s Office to examine tax returns of those receiving welfare benefits. It passed the Senate as amended with a two-year repealer that would force the legislature to take another look at it in two years before it expires.
The House has a similar bill that has yet to pass out of committee.