Located in the Deep South of the U.S, Mississippi is the 34th most populous state in the country. Bound to the East by Alabama, the Southwest by Louisiana, the North by Tennessee, and the Northwest by Arkansas, it was the 20th state to be admitted into the union in December 1817. The famous Mississippi river forms much of the state’s western border and contributes largely to the livelihoods of Mississippians, many of whom live in rural areas.
Mississippi’s capital and the most populous city are Jackson (with around 600,000 people). The city stands as Mississippi’s most developed metropolitan area and home to the state’s highest-earning jobs and workers. In total, the state has a population of around 2,900,000 people, with 38% of that number African-American (the highest of any American state).
At around $45,000, Mississippi’s statewide median household income stands at 50th position, the lowest in the United States.
Early History of Gambling and Poker in Mississippi
The practice of gambling in Mississippi, according to historical accounts, predates both the arrival of slaves and that of Europeans, to the Native American peoples who inhabited the land for centuries. The indigenous Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians of the region gambled regularly on different games. One of these games was “ishtaboli”, a sport that combines the features of lacrosse and football, where players try to score points by tossing a ball through an opponent’s goal post.
Following the arrivals of the European and African settlers and slaves, the market for gambling in Mississippi grew exponentially in scope. Games like checkers, billiards, and more importantly, cards were frequently wagered on. In fact, historians have found 18th-century promissory notes written on the back of cards. These were written by the loser of a wager and promised the winner a future payment.
As a matter of fact, modern poker owes a lot of its history to the state of Mississippi. A lot of the game’s inherent tactics like raising, bluffing, and even in-game wagers originated in-game houses and resorts along the Mississippi River delta in the 18th century. The early version incorporated the same 52-card deck that is in use today and had both straight and stud versions. Thus the first version of poker, as we know it today, was conceived. Even before Mississippi joined the Union, it already had a long gambling history across different kinds of games and sports.
Biloxi county, during these times, was at the forefront of the state’s leisure and tourism industry. Resorts like the Shady Grove Hotel, Nixon Hotel, and Magnolia Hotel all had in-house casinos (of different kinds) alongside the regular selection of entertainment and hospitality options.
Nearing the 20th century, most of the gambling in the state took place in cities and counties along the Mississippi River or the coasts along the Gulf of Mexico. This is because legal gambling in the state was restricted by law, and only allowed in these regions
The Mid-20th Century
Fast-forward to the mid-1900s, and gambling was already one of the most profitable industries in the entire state. Twenty years prior, during the great depression of the ’30s, gambling already proved a great economic stimulant, though it, of course, hurt many individual people.
However, by 1942, all gambling activities, including poker, were once again prohibited. This fact didn’t stop the bet-loving Mississippians from engaging in the activity behind closed doors.
Modern History of Gambling in Mississippi
In the 1980s, legislators saw the need to create renewed legal acceptance for the gambling industry. It argued that this legislative change would boost revenues in states like Mississippi and, since the law catered heavily to Native Americans, that it would bring revenue into their communities.
Thus, in 1990, the Mississippi Gaming Control Act legalized the controlled operation of gambling establishments like riverboat casinos and other similar establishments that would operate around the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. This allowed more Native Americans to participate in the gaming industry and resulted in establishments like the Silver Star Casino, among others.
Following the founding of the Mississippi Gaming Commission a few years later, one of its first accomplishments, in 2005, was the legalization of land-based casinos as well as real cash poker card rooms throughout the state. To date, Mississippians have and continue to enjoy legal in-person gambling and poker at more than 22 casinos all over the state.
The Current Legality of Gambling and Poker in Mississippi
To put it simply, while in-person gambling in the state is legal and non-restricted, online gambling, wagers, and sports betting are currently banned in the state.
This does not mean that bettors in Mississippi cannot place bets and play casino games like poker, but only that gambling sites and online poker rooms are not allowed, by law, to operate in the state. However, due to the generally lenient stance on betting in Mississippi, bettors in the Magnolia State can sign up and place their bets on offshore poker websites and gambling websites from other U.S states (that allow it).
Many people reference the irony that one of the founding states of the now multi-billion dollar U.S gambling industry still has such prohibitive laws in place. However, this year, in 2020, Mississippi state government officials will debate on amending the law to allow regulated legal poker websites and online gambling. After two consecutive attempts to this end were unsuccessful, many speculators believe that this one might break the stalemate and bring accessible online betting to Mississippians.
Realistically, however, it remains uncertain whether or not any new internet gambling bill will pass through the state’s Ways and Means Committee. Viewing such a bill as a damning path towards societal decadence, the new iGambling, and online poker bill has been met with strong resistance from Mississippi’s conservative and highly-religious voter groups and lobbies.