State casino operator history
Mississippi’s history with gambling stretches back hundreds of years. Native Americans engaged in sports betting prior to the arrival of European settlers. Under Spanish rule, the first horse racing track in Mississippi, the Fleetfield Race Track, was established in 1795 in Natchez.
Gambling came easy to the state, at least in the early days, due to its geographic advantages. The Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River meant people and money from many parts of the world were in transit in the area. Unlike gambling destinations like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where people travel explicitly to gamble, patrons of gambling venues in Mississippi were usually just passing through.
Legal gambling in Mississippi persisted into statehood. The area along the coast became known as The Strip. Along with the gambling, it brought headlining acts like Elvis Presley and Hank Williams to the region. The road along the waterline, US 90, was one of the first roads widened to four lanes in the country, due to the traffic concerns.
However, in 1950, things changed drastically. A group of ministers from the Gulf Coast region, calling themselves the Biloxi Protestant Ministerial Association, began meeting with their congregants and others about the dangers of gambling and its ill effects on the home lives of the people in Mississippi. Citing the Mississippi Law Code of 1942, the group began running advertisements in local papers to outline how the operation of gambling machines was in violation of the law.
Concurrently, the US Senate’s Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce was investigating casinos around the country as sources of criminal business. This committee was led by Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, and would eventually be known as the Kefauver Committee. Its effects on organized crime in the country were far-reaching, but locally, the minister group used the proceedings to draw greater attention to the unsavory aspects of gambling.
As a result, most of the slot machines were confiscated, and gambling was forced underground. There were clubs that continued to operate for the next 19 years, but the devastation of Hurricane Camille in 1969 was the coup de grace for both the gambling and tourist industries along the coast. Both the region’s and the state’s economies wasted away.
After 21 years of decline, the state legislature had enough. In 1990, the governing body passed the Mississippi Gaming Control Act, which allowed casino gambling in Mississippi counties along the Gulf Coast or the Mississippi River. The legal situation was also buoyed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which allowed federally recognized Native American tribes to construct and operate casinos on tribal lands.
As a result, there are 29 casinos operating in seven Mississippi counties. The highest concentrations of these properties are in and around the cities of Biloxi, Tunica, and Vicksburg. Two of the leading gaming companies in the world – MGM Resorts and Caesars – have multiple operations in Mississippi. Until Florida casinos opened, the only real competition in the region was in New Orleans.
The bottom line is that Mississippi is a major gambling locale in the US and will likely continue to be so, even with more states getting into the gambling market.