Mississippi Riverboat Gambling Bill Dies in Senate Gaming Committee

A bill that could have authorized riverboat gambling in Mississippi’s Capital has died after failing to make it out of committee.

Senate Bill 2820 (SB 2820), introduced by Sen. John Horhn, would have authorized cruise vessels on the Pearl River or adjoining bodies of water within a city with a population of 145,000 or more.

If passed, the legislation introduced on Feb. 19 would have gone into effect on July 1, just ahead of Independence Day celebrations. Instead, on Tuesday, the proposed amendment died in the Senate Gaming Committee.

Horhn’s Riverboat Aspirations Dashed

Currently, the Mississippi Gaming Control Act (MGCA) allows riverboat gambling in counties along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast—subject to regional voter approval. Since the GCA’s passage in 1990, over 30 dockside gambling destinations have taken up residence on the Mississippi’s shores.

Much has changed in the years since, with traditional riverboats evolving into the floating resorts that dot the Gulf Coast. Additionally, after Hurricane Katrina decimated the coastal casino industry, lawmakers amended laws to allow gaming floors leeway to move 800 feet inland, where many remain.

Had Horhn’s bill passed, it opened up the possibility for shoreline casinos along Pearl River, which covers two-thirds of the Magnolia State. Notably, the Pearl runs through Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city, before forking into East and West Pearl Rivers 30 miles before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

If SB 2820 had passed, Jackson would have likely been the only city to benefit due to the population requirement. However, even that is uncertain due to Jackson’s sinking population.

Is Sinking Population to Blame?

In 2021, according to the latest census information, Jackson’s population dropped below 150,000 (149,727) for the first time since before 1970. As of 2022, the number fell even further to 145,995, earning Jackson the title of the fastest-shrinking US city with at least 50,000 residents, taking the crown from San Francisco.

Assuming Jackson’s rapid depopulation trend has continued, unofficial 2024 estimates place the city’s population at 138,531. As Mississippi’s most populous city, not even Jackson would make the cut-off for Horhn’s proposed riverboat legislation.

Consider the bill’s text:

AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 67-1-71, 87-1-5, 97-33-1, 97-33-7, 97-33-17, 97-33-25 AND 97-33-27, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO AUTHORIZE GAMING TO BE CONDUCTED ON VESSELS AS DEFINED IN SECTION 27-109-1 WHENEVER SUCH VESSEL IS ON THE PEARL RIVER OR AN ADJOINING BODY OF WATER WITHIN THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF A MUNICIPALITY WITH A POPULATION OF 145,000 OR MORE ACCORDING TO THE MOST RECENT FEDERAL DECENNIAL CENSUS…

In this case, the question is what constitutes the “corporate limits of a municipality with a population of one hundred forty-five thousand (145,000) or more.”

While Horhn’s bill may have referenced the entire Jackson Metropolitan Statistical Area (which, according to the last measured count, was 580,280 in 2018), a near-identical bill he put forth in 2021 suggests otherwise.

Notably, the text of SB 2395 is much the same. The only essential difference is the population requirement: 150,000. The 2021 bill even died the same way—abandoned by the Gaming Committee.

This similarity suggests Jackson’s population is falling faster than Horhn can usher expanded riverboat gambling into law.

Bonus emailed the Senator for clarification and to confirm whether he intends to reintroduce the bill in a future legislative session. We are still awaiting a response.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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